National Licorice Day

I’m trying to get over this sad news and so would like to focus instead on the fact that today is National Licorice Day. While this isn’t exactly an official “fresh pick” post, I will provide you with some interesting info on this confection:

Licorice (or liquorice) is the root of Glycyrrhiza glabra, from which a sweet flavor can be extracted. The licorice plant is a legume, related to beans and peas, and native to southern Europe and parts of Asia. It is a herbaceous perennial with long, purple to pale whitish blue flowers.

Licorice is a “good news and bad news kind of herb” which has been used to treat a multitude of ailments, including stomach ulcers, bronchitis, sore throat and viral infections. While a review of several clinical trials found that glycyrrhizic acid, a molecule found in licorice root, might actually reduce complications from hepatitis C in some patients, there isn’t enough evidence to actually say that licorice can help with any medical problems…but it might cause a few. According to the National Institutes of Health, licorice has been linked to salt and water retention and low potassium levels. It can also cause an increase in levels of cortisol, a hormone linked to high blood pressure and (eek) may not be good for the libido.

That said, most licorice candies (especially those in the U.S.) are flavored with anise oil (a spice with a licorice taste) or made with a licorice root extract called DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice root) that does not contain glycyrrhizic acid and which is not associated with many of the adverse effects of licorice. But if you satisfy your sweet tooth on occasion with some real-deal licorice candy available at import stores or online, don’t panic. Levels of licorice root in a serving-size portion of candy are not as high as those found in herbal supplements, but limit yourself to a few pieces and avoid it if you have high blood pressure or heart disease.

When it comes to Twizzlers®, it’s actually sugar that you need to think about. Only the black (licorice) version contains licorice extract, minus the acid. One serving of the licorice or strawberry flavor—four pieces—contains 20-21 grams of sugar. That’s about five teaspoons of sugar per serving. Although you won’t have any of the bad biological effects from licorice root, you’re likely to have one heck of a sugar buzz.

Licorice officially now scares the bejesus out of me.

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