What Is Sour Licorice?

Britt Archer

Licorice has been enjoyed by generations of children and adults; historically the candy was a sweet black concoction made from licorice root. Today licorice comes in many more colors than black, and its ingredients have also changed. Anise, an herb whose taste is similar to licorice, is usually substituted for licorice root today in many candy products to give them their sweet taste. Sour licorice is a similar type of licorice candy, like the candies based on anise or licorice root, but with added flavorings and colorings to give it a taste that is more sour than the sweet licorice root-based types. Numerous varieties and sour flavors are available, including fruit flavors such as watermelon, green apple and blue raspberry.

Anise, which tastes similar to licorice, is often substituted for licorice root.
Anise, which tastes similar to licorice, is often substituted for licorice root.

Some manufacturers of the traditional black licorice, including gourmet candy retailers, still use licorice extract as a main ingredient. The sour licorice made today does not contain any real licorice and is far less sweet than the original type, but both sour licorice and traditional flavors are very popular. Sour licorice is descended from a long line of licorice treats, beginning in the 1200s with medicinal licorice that was sweetened with honey to form a licorice drop. By the 1500s, candy manufacturers in Holland were extruding licorice into longer, skinnier forms similar to today’s licorice twists. Chemists who work for the candy industry today make use of preservatives, flavorings, sweeteners and other ingredients to produce a wide variety of licorice shapes and flavors, including sour licorice.

Licorice comes in a variety of colors.
Licorice comes in a variety of colors.

Licorice has been eaten by armies on the march since ancient times, but sour licorice is a relatively new creation. Candy manufacturers began making the lip-puckering confection in the 1990s. Today the sour variety comes in numerous forms, including long extruded whips and twists, small bite-size bars and star shapes, sometimes covered with a contrasting sweet fine sugar. Many of these products are sweetened with sugar or corn syrup, and they contain no real licorice.

Licorice is a perennial that some people throughout history considered a weed, but licorice extract or juice is valued and costly, leading to the use of other ingredients as substitutions in the making of today’s licorice candy products. Licorice has a long history of medicinal use. It has been found in ancient Egyptian tombs, and it was mentioned in Egyptian hieroglyphics. Many centuries later, Napoleon Bonaparte kept a supply of licorice with him on the battlefield because it supposedly helped calm his nerves.

Licorice has been consumed since ancient Egyptian times.
Licorice has been consumed since ancient Egyptian times.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


@ddljohn-- I have not seen black licorice candies that are sour. There are other flavors that are sour like green apple, strawberry, cherry and even flavors like mango, watermelon, lime and blueberry. You are right that sour apple is the most common flavor, it's also my favorite.

I usually buy the laces because once I start eating sour licorice, I can't stop. I tend to eat less of the laces because they are very thin and long like shoelaces so it takes longer to eat them.

The best part about licorice candies is that they are usually low in fat and calories, so they make a great snack.


Do sour licorice candies actually come in black licorice flavor? This type of candy is usually sour apple flavored right?


Although licorice candy made with real licorice extract costs more, I think that this type is superior and definitely worth the cost. I always check the ingredients list before buying sour licorice candies. I only buy one that contains natural licorice extract.

Of course this doesn't apply to sour licorice candies in other flavors. They don't need to have licorice since they are not in that flavor. Actually we shouldn't call stick candies and candy laces in other flavors as licorice candy. But since these candies were inspired from licorice candies, some people still refer to them that way.

Post your comments
Forgot password?