Licorice Confectionery

Licorice (also liquorice) is the name given to both the flavor extracted from the root of the plant Glycyrrhiza glabra and to a popular confection whose flavor is derived from the extract. The word licorice comes from the Greek words "glykys" (meaning sweet) and "rhiz" (meaning root). In ancient times the root was valued not only for its sweet taste, but also for its perceived medicinal value, both as a treatment for illness and as a substance for preserving youth and beauty.

The licorice plant is native to an extensive region, which includes the Mediterranean, Asia Minor, and southern Asia (see Fig. 1). It has also been grown in Pontefract, England, and Bamberg, Germany. The prime sources of supply of licorice root currently are Iran, Turkey, China, Afghanistan, Syria, and Pakistan. Extracts from Spain and Italy are also available in limited quantities but at higher prices because they are less bitter in flavor.

The licorice plant takes about 4 years to grow to a height of 2-4 feet. At this age the root can be as thick as 1 inch but averages about a half inch. The lateral roots can be as long as 25 feet. The roots are harvested in autumn and spring and transported to baling stations where they are inspected, dried, and baled. The bales are shipped to extraction plants where the root is shredded and immersed in hot water. The extraction process can take place under pressure or atmospherically. The resulting liquor is then transferred to evaporators where it is concentrated into three basic forms:

1. Syrup containing up to 30% moisture

2. Paste or block licorice with moisture content between 14 and 22%

3. Powder with moisture content around 4.5%.

The different processes result in slightly different flavor profiles.

Licorice extract is used in the following industries:

Tobacco as flavor, to increase the mildness and as a moisture retainer.

Pharmaceutical, to mask the bitter flavor of some drugs and as a flavor enhancer.

Food and beverage as flavor, sweetness enhancer and foaming agent.

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