Licorice candy is a confection with a shiny outer appearance and chewy texture that is traditionally flavored by the extract from the root of the licorice plant. The licorice plant grows in southern Asia and Europe and its roots contain a sweet substance known as glycyrrhizic acid. Glycyrrhizic acid is the main ingredient responsible for giving licorice a sweet flavor and it is widely considered to be approximately 50 times sweeter than sugar. Modern versions of the candy are often made with oil extracted from the anise plant, a Mediterranean plant that has a flavor similar to licorice.
Traditional licorice candy is also commonly referred to as black licorice. It is black in color and is usually made by combining licorice extract with a binder, such as cornstarch or gelatin, and adding it to a mold to give the candy a ridged texture. Once the liquid mixture dries, a thin wax is generally applied to the outside of the candy to give it a shiny appearance. Since this type of licorice uses actual licorice root extract for its flavor, it is thought to have a deeper, more distinctive taste compared to versions that use anise oil.
Even though it is typically packaged as licorice candy, the version that tends to be more common in modern times is often flavored with oil extracted from the seeds of the anise plant, rather than utilizing licorice extract. The candy may also be flavored with a combination of both licorice extract and anise oil. The United States tends to be the most likely to have versions of the candy that are made with anise oil rather than authentic licorice extract, depending on the availability of the extracts.
Licorice candy is also available in a red color that may come in a variety of specific flavors. This type of candy is usually marketed as a licorice product but does not usually contain any licorice flavoring or anise oil. Red licorice is often flavored with cherry or strawberry, but has the same ridged texture, chewiness, and shiny appearance as traditional licorice. Other common flavor variations of the candy include chocolate licorice, which is usually brown, and blue raspberry, which tends to have a bright blue hue.
Although most licorice candy tends to share the same ridged texture, shiny appearance, and chewiness, manufacturers may produce the candy in a variety of different shapes. Thin, hollow licorice ropes are one of the most common forms, as well as small bite-sized licorice pieces. The candy may also be shaped into wheels or made into thin strands that are peeled away from one another before eating.