Licorice is a member of the legume family and although similar in taste, not related to anise.The licorice plant is a perennial herbaceous plant native to southern Europe and parts of Asia and India and has been used in candies and sweeteners for centuries. Countries that currently produce licorice include India, Iran, Italy, Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and Iraq. In the Netherlands, licorice drops are one of the most popular forms of sweets and have been valued for thousands of years for dozens of purposes, including a remedy for a leaky gut, coughs and colds. Its uses date as far back as ancient Egypt, where it was made into a drink to cure digestive problems, after boiling the root and adding liquid. It is still frequently worldwide in herbal teas.
Naturally sweet and easy to grow, it has been recognized for its therapeutic value to help with pain relief, irritable bowels, joint pain, sore throat, heartburn and even an antioxidant. Although excessive use of licorice can be harmful, it is highly unlikely that someone would ingest enough to be a problem. It made its way to America via Great Britain, and since licorice has been a long standing favorite worldwide, it did not go unnoticed by early candymakers, who began introducing it to satisfy America’s growing sweet tooth in the late 1800s:
Good & Plenty – the oldest branded candy, introduced in 1893 in its distinctive box with pink and white candies, identified with its trademark character “Choo-Choo Charlie” on early television, and a favorite movie theater candy; kids delighted in rattling those boxes and annoying other movie goers;
Black Crows gum drops also date back to the late 1890s;
Chuckles jellied candies – five flavors to a package which included one licorice piece, introduced in 1921;
Assorted licorice mix and swizzle sticks – fun to chew and stretch, chewing on licorice root was used in African countries for centuries as a means of cleaning teeth;
Black jelly beans – everyone has a favorite flavor, and many reach for those black ones first;
Smith Bros. cough drops – first brand introduced in 1847 and a hit with its distinctive package featuring two bearded gentlemen, sadly out of business now; (wild cherry flavor came later)
Black Jack gum – 1884 a chewing gum maker named Thomas Adams began adding licorice flavoring to his chicle gum,and called his creation Adams’ Black Jack, the first flavored gum in the U.S. It was also the first gum to be offered in sticks; (not popular anymore, but still available)
Not as popular as it was a century ago, licorice still draws a loyal following, especially among the hard and chewy candy aficionados. Aside from the fact that is can make your teeth and gums gray, it continues to have a definite following. It’s one of those flavors which you either like or dislike, and pretty much confines itself to candies. Licorice ice cream and cookies don’t seem to pop up anywhere, but that’s just fine with those who love it. And Choo-Choo Charlie may be gone, but his legend lives on. It’s good and plentiful to be sure.