Food News

Celebrate National Licorice Day in Tut and Napoleon Style

Thanks to the Panda folks, we have been made aware that today is National Licorice Day. For us licorice and anise-adorers, this is just cause to stuff our faces with the chewy stuff. But for those of you out there who nearly dry-heaved when you found a black jellybean in the Easter basket, well... read on and maybe we can convert you.

First off, are you aware that there're at least a dozen varieties and more than 300 types of licorice candy in existence (if you count cough drops and such)? Just because you don't like black, or red, or soft, or sweet doesn't mean you can't become a fan. Epicure and Whole Foods have a decent selection and Gardner's Market has twists in all different flavors, but your best bet is to make a small hike up to Wilton Manors for a visit to Antonio Dumas' To The Moon Marketplace. The guy not only stocks nearly 100 types at all times, but he knows each candy as if it were his childhood buddy.

A veritable Rain Man of confectionary knowledge, Dumas can point you to his most popular (soft, sweet tubes from New Zealand), weirdest (little cubes with the consistency of marshmallows), funkiest (powder like Fun Dip), hottest (Tyrkisk Peber, a hard, black version with the flavor of flaming pepper), and racist (licorice babies--don't ask for the nickname) sellers in a matter of seconds. 

Some of the most unusual types come from New Zealand, Finland, and Holland, and most of them use licorice, whereas the American versions often employ anise. Debbie Ball, owner of Candy Lady in Albuquerque, New Mexico, makes two licorice products in her store, but store carries anywhere from 60 to 80 types of licorice candy at any given time. Often she can tell by a customer's age and accent (or lack thereof) what type of candy they'll like. "Older people grew up with that old-fashioned molasses kind. The younger ones like the jellybean taste: sweet. If they have an accent, it's the Dutch or salty licorice." Did she say salty? "The Dutch types have really weird tastes," she tells us. "All Dutch licorice is made with ammonium chloride." (We verified this. Check it out. Yipes!) Good news is, she can ship her stock all over the world in case you get a hankering.

Also, did you know the stuff has medicinal properties that go beyond curbing a sugar craving? "Anise does help keep you regular," Ball claims. "We all tried it and it does work." Most of her customers buy the stuff for a sweet tooth, but some are aware that licorice has been known to alleviate health issues ranging from sore throats to inflammatory stomach conditions, and licorice can adjust blood sugar and reduce pain from ulcers, arthritis, and menstrual cramps. Some even claim it has helped them stop smoking (maybe that's because cigarettes are often flavored with licorice?). The Panda folks claim Tutankhamun was buried with a jar of licorice to protect him in the afterlife and Napoleon indulged in licorice before battle to calm his nerves. See? You could've developed an addiction for a good, healthful, quality treat if only you laid off all that Jäger in your twenties. 

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Riki Altman