by Karen McGrane
Licorice seemed wrong and bad to me as a child, one of those things like coffee ice cream or kissing in movies that made me deeply suspicious of adult desires. As my tastes have matured so has my preference for licorice and I seek out only the darkest, chewiest, and most complex flavors.
Used as a sweetener and a medicinal since ancient times, Licorice is known as "the grandfather of herbs" in Chinese herbalism, which has employed it as a harmonizing ingredient for more than 5,000 years. Egyptian hieroglyphics document the use of licorice in a sweetened beverage and King Tutankhamen carried supplies of it in his tomb into the afterlife. Alexander the Great and Roman Emperor Caesar both endorsed the benefits of licorice and even our modern one-named deity, Madonna, is rumored to have named her latest album "Licorice."
With thousands of years of history and a global footprint behind it, licorice candies are today available in a dizzying array of shapes and styles from all over the world. From hard tablets to gummy logs to salty lozenges, Cool Hunting taste testers did the hard work of chewing through the choices and have the following recommendations to suit every preference.
Rated as "perfect" by numerous testers, these seem to hit all the marks. They're a little sweet, a little salty, a little soft and a little chewy. The spiraled rope can be enjoyed two ways: by unspooling it into a long lace or by popping the whole wheel into your mouth. Get a five lb box of Haribo Wheels from the Candy Warehouse for $20.
Black Tire Tread
A great choice for those wanting a "classic" licorice flavor and texture, these offer substantial chunks that provide just the right amount of softness and chewiness. The licorice taste is not too sweet—flavorful but not overwhelming. Purchase a two oz. bar at Licorice International for $1.50.
Recommended for salty licorice neophytes or those who like a more moderate saltiness, we found these mouthwatering and complex with just the right amount of chewy density. Dubble Zout (above left) is a saltier variation in a coin shape. Get at one kg package for $15 at Licorice International.
An initial doubt gave way to sheer delight on sampling these unusual candies—there's a lot here to like. "Sassolini" is fun to say, even if you don't know it means ("little stones"). And they do resemble small pebbles, with chunks of licorice coated in a vanilla candy shell. The crunchy outside gives way to a center with just the right texture and complex licorice flavor. Purchase ½ lb for $12 at Licorice International.
Pigs give us many delicious foods, including ham, pork chops and, yes, bacon. Modern science has not yet given us "popcorn-style" pigs you can eat by the handful, though. This licorice steps in to fill the void, offering a mild flavor that appealed to even the licorice-haters in our midst. Get a tin for $15 from Licorice International.
While candy cigarettes have been banned in several countries, researchers have not been able to prove a connection between licorice pipes and the dreaded "pretend cancer" and thus these remain on the market. No word as to whether eating these delicious chewy treats desensitizes children to the evils of pipe smoking—but since most children don't like licorice anyway, these are safely enjoyed by adults only. Get a pack of 10 for $8 from Licorice International.
Imagine licorice crossed with circus peanuts and you'd have Rockies, an unusual and sweet candy from the Netherlands. If you like these, you might also try another Dutch treat called Apekoppens (or "Ape Heads") which combines licorice and banana gummy.