Like marshmallows, heirloom gum and other childhood confectionary, licorice is gaining ground as a grown-up treat with a halo of health. Twizzler might be the most popular licorice in the United States, but a number of smaller brands specializing in authentic ingredients has allowed adults to recapture a taste of the past while doing their body good.
“People use it for after dinner. If you suck on a good piece of licorice it can usually calm the stomach,” noted Elizabeth Erlandson, and she should know. Erlandson is co-owner of Licorice International, an emporium for all things licorice located in Lincoln, Neb.
“A lot of people who quit smoking use licorice because it helps coat the lining of the throat,” she continued. “In fact, a large percentage of commercially grown licorice is used in the tobacco industry as a flavoring agent for that reason.”
It's no surprise, then, that licorice is used as a decongestant. It also has a reputation for alleviating the discomforts associated with menopause and PMS, she said.
Sales are healthy. For the year ending Oct. 4, licorice activity grew nearly 8% to reach $312 million, according to Information Resources Inc., a Chicago-based market research firm.
Average consumers prefer their licorice in candies and lozenges, though “deep green” consumers might actually seek out licorice root (the plant is a member of the legume family, similar to peas) or tea. For those purchasing confectionary, the key is to buy products containing real licorice extract, and not anise, an herb that mimics licorice's flavor, but lacks the decongestive benefits.