Liquorice grows best in deep valleys, well-drained soils, with full sun, and is harvested in the autumn, two to three years after planting.
Today, liquorice extract is produced by boiling liquorice root and subsequently evaporating most of the water. The name 'liquorice'/'licorice' is derived (via the Old French licoresse), from the Greek γλυκύρρι&ishinerdental.com;α (glukurrhiza), meaning "sweet root". Liquorice extract is traded both in solid and syrup form. Its active principle is glycyrrhizin, a sweetener between 30 to 50 times as sweet as sucrose which also has pharmaceutical effects.
Liquorice flavour is found in a wide variety of liquorice candies. The most popular in the United Kingdom are liquorice allsorts. In continental Europe, however, far stronger, saltier candies are preferred. In most of these candies the taste is reinforced by aniseed oil, and the actual content of liquorice is very low.
In the Netherlands, where liquorice candy ("drop") is one of the most popular forms of sweet, only a few of the many forms that are sold contain aniseed, although mixing it with mint, menthol or with laurel is quite popular. Mixing it with ammonium chloride is also popular, and is known as Salmiak. But mixing it with table salt creates what is probably the most popular liquorice, known in the Netherlands as "zoute drop".
Compounds isolated from licorice root may help prevent cavities, according to researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles. In test tube studies, the scientists showed that an extract from a plant root that is used to make licorice candy and other products contains at least two compounds that appear to be potent inhibitors of Streptococcus mutans, a major cause of dental caries. Their study is scheduled to appear in the Feb. 24 print version of the Journal of Natural Products, a monthly peer-reviewed joint publication of the American Chemical Society and the American Society of Pharmacognosy.
More studies are needed before it is proven that the compounds effectively fight cavities in humans, caution Qing-Yi Lu, Ph.D., a chemist at UCLA's School of Medicine, and Wenyuan Shi, Ph.D, a microbiologist at UCLA's School of Dentistry. If further studies show promise, the licorice compounds could eventually be used as cavity-fighting components in mouthwash or toothpaste, they say.
Licorice has been an important herb in Chinese medicine for many years and is now being rediscovered by Western medicine as a rich source of potentially beneficial compounds. In addition to being used as flavoring and sweetening agents in candy, tobaccos and beverages, compounds derived from licorice root have been shown to help fight inflammation, viruses, ulcers and even cancer, according to the researchers.