Licorice, Glycyrrhza glabra, is a perennial in the pulse family that is grown for its taproot. It grows wild in Southern and Central Europe and parts of Asia. It is also known as licorice root, liquorice, and sweetroot. Anise or aniseed, Pimpinella anisum, has a similar flavor, but is a completely separate plant from a different family. However, since aniseed oil is often used to enhance the flavor of licorice candy, distinguishing the flavors can be difficult.
Used by the Ancient Chinese and by Native Americans — they would have used G. lepidota, which is native to the United States — licorice has a longer history as contributing to medical treatment than as a culinary fragrance. It was reportedly eaten by Alexander the Great. The plant was brought to England by Dominican friars, and the production of candy using the root was later begun at Pontefract Abbey in Yorkshire. Today, the town of Pontefract is the site of an annual licorice festival held in July.
The plant grows to 3 to 7 feet (90 to 210 cm), and the taproot can reach a depth of 4 feet (1.2 m). It is late blossoming, with purple and white flowers and maroon seed pods. The root is not ready to harvest until three to five years after planting.
Food and Other Uses
Licorice’s chief role in cooking is in confections. It is used to make the German candy lakritz and the Scandinavian candy salmiakki. It is also used in brewing and in making aperitifs. There are far more recipes calling for the use of ready-made licorice candy than for power, but it is occasionally called for in milkshakes. It can also be used as an addition to Chinese five spice powder.
A combination of medicinal benefits and concerns have been studied in licorice, and anyone with questions should consult a health care professional. Among the benefits reported, there are 2006 reports that recount research that licorice root extract may have compounds that would help prevent tooth decay and that it could be a useful treatment for rosacea. On the other hand, it has also reportedly been associated with high blood pressure and reduced testosterone.