Licorice has been enjoyed by generations of children and adults; historically the candy was a sweet black concoction made from licorice root. Today licorice comes in many more colors than black, and its ingredients have also changed. Anise, an herb whose taste is similar to licorice, is usually substituted for licorice root today in many candy products to give them their sweet taste. Sour licorice is a similar type of licorice candy, like the candies based on anise or licorice root, but with added flavorings and colorings to give it a taste that is more sour than the sweet licorice root-based types. Numerous varieties and sour flavors are available, including fruit flavors such as watermelon, green apple and blue raspberry.
Some manufacturers of the traditional black licorice, including gourmet candy retailers, still use licorice extract as a main ingredient. The sour licorice made today does not contain any real licorice and is far less sweet than the original type, but both sour licorice and traditional flavors are very popular. Sour licorice is descended from a long line of licorice treats, beginning in the 1200s with medicinal licorice that was sweetened with honey to form a licorice drop. By the 1500s, candy manufacturers in Holland were extruding licorice into longer, skinnier forms similar to today’s licorice twists. Chemists who work for the candy industry today make use of preservatives, flavorings, sweeteners and other ingredients to produce a wide variety of licorice shapes and flavors, including sour licorice.
Licorice has been eaten by armies on the march since ancient times, but sour licorice is a relatively new creation. Candy manufacturers began making the lip-puckering confection in the 1990s. Today the sour variety comes in numerous forms, including long extruded whips and twists, small bite-size bars and star shapes, sometimes covered with a contrasting sweet fine sugar. Many of these products are sweetened with sugar or corn syrup, and they contain no real licorice.
Licorice is a perennial that some people throughout history considered a weed, but licorice extract or juice is valued and costly, leading to the use of other ingredients as substitutions in the making of today’s licorice candy products. Licorice has a long history of medicinal use. It has been found in ancient Egyptian tombs, and it was mentioned in Egyptian hieroglyphics. Many centuries later, Napoleon Bonaparte kept a supply of licorice with him on the battlefield because it supposedly helped calm his nerves.