Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

The new black is a very old black

Licorice: candy land's comeback kid



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At the Great Glass Elevator you'll find Pontefract coins, also called Pontefract cakes or pomfrets, produced in Yorkshire since the late 1600s, as well as licorice allsorts, also from the U.K. and much better than those made in North America. The retro Goodies in neon pinks, greens and yellows will remind just about every generation of being a kid. The best-selling licorice cream rocks — licorice-wrapped tubes surrounding a fruity, creamy filling — and that uniquely chewy Australian black licorice are all great ways to explore your inner licorice lover once you're ready to move on from Twizzlers and other sweet treats.

Still, says Czekurlon, it is far and away more European kids, rather than North American ones, who go for black licorice at the Candy Shop. North American kids, for the most part, are "really into gummies — straight-up sugar."

Kid or not, if you find yourself on The Drive in Vancouver, check out the Licorice Parlour at 1002 Commercial Drive, where owner Mary Jane (a.k.a. Watermelon) brings in 65 varieties of licorice, and whips up a wonderful cashew milk "nice cream" flavoured with salted licorice and lavender. In keeping with your inner or overt child, she also sells some of the craziest hula hoops you've ever seen, which are as much fun as the licorice wheels you can unravel like a pinwheel.

All playfulness aside, licorice really does have some remarkable qualities.

The plant itself is native to Eurasia, northern Africa and western Asia. It's a perennial with pretty light blue to violet-coloured flowers and sticky stems that grow to about a metre in height. According to the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens' website, there are about 20 species in the genus, many of which are grown for candy, beverages and medicine. It is cultivated for its rhizomes, or underground stems, which contain the compound glycyrrhizin — 50 times sweeter than sugar.

For centuries licorice has been used as a medicinal plant, to soothe coughs and sore throats, sore mouths, stomach ulcers and other inflammatory conditions. Today its compounds are added to cough syrup and lozenges, and used to mask the unpleasant taste of other medicines. In modern Chinese herbalism, it's also used to counteract food poisoning and, in conjunction with other anti-spasmodics, to lessen menstrual cramps.

As for its aphrodisiacal effects, according to a report in BBC Science and Nature, black licorice aroma, alone or in combination with other aromas, was shown to be one of the top aromas that enhanced penile blood flow in a study conducted by the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago. For women, vaginal blood flow was increased by an average of 13 per cent by the aroma of licorice and — surprisingly — cucumber.

I can hear the clicks and pencil scratchings adding to the shopping lists now.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who's been buying an awful lot of licorice lately.