Licorice root spice. Naturally sweet.

Author: Shelley Bennetts   Date Posted:11 September 2018 

There is a huge difference between licorice root spice and black licorice confection. The only similarity is the intensely sweet, anise flavour. Licorice spice comes from the root of a perennial plant, Glycyrrhiza glabra, meaning sweet root. Often used as an alternative to sugar for those on a diabetic diet, it has a zero glycaemic index. Licorice is widely used in herbal remedies and is often added to disguise other unpleasant flavours. Licorice powder is the dried, ground root of the plant and apart form it’s medicinal properties, it has some interesting uses in cooking.

Licorice contains a substance called glycyrrhizin which is fifty times sweeter than refined cane sugar! The sweetness can be detected if a single drop is diluted with 15,000 drops of water. That’s incredibly sweet, so licorice is used in very small quantities. And, the sweetness that licorice imparts into food and drinks is long-lasting. Strangely, the sweetness isn’t detected by the palate as quickly as sugar. The lovely sweet anise flavour tends to sneak up on you, and then linger on the tongue for a while afterwards.

Cooking with Licorice

Licorice is a sophisticated cooking ingredient, with an elegant, herbal taste and notes of anise and fennel. And, it works just as well in savoury dishes as it does in sweet. Pieces of the whole root can be used as a tea infusion, in syrups, sauces, or in custards, like vanilla beans or cinnamon quills. It has a very woody texture and is discarded after use.

However, the dried, ground licorice root powder is more versatile, able to be added straight into both sweet and savoury recipes. It can be used as a rub, a marinade, in drinks, in baked goods and in desserts. Because of its intensity, only very small amounts are needed to attain the desired sweetness.

Licorice pairs well with big flavours; game meats like pigeon, quail or duck are all good partners, as is pork. Try a twist on traditional Roast Pork by blending a scant teaspoon of licorice with salt and rubbing it into the scored skin before baking. It does sound a little strange, but the licorice gives the pork and extra layer of flavour and takes this traditional dish to a whole new level of deliciousness.

Licorice as a Sugar Substitute

Licorice root is a useful alternative to calorie-laden sugar for diabetics or weight-watchers. Substituting sugar with licorice will work in some instances, particularly if you like the anise flavour. If you drink your tea or coffee with sugar, try substituting the sugar for a tiny amount of licorice powder. It makes for a lovely, sweet, anise-flavoured change, and you certainly won't miss the sugar! Whilst it's fine to use licorice in small amounts and in your cooking, be aware that over-consuming licorice root has potential health side-effects. 

I’m particularly keen on sweet recipes made up of many prepared components and thrown together for serving. Here’s a dessert recipe with a licorice twist that is both simple and sophisticated… Licorice Meringue, Chocolate Ganache and Berry Mess.

Licorice powder is not a common cooking ingredient. It’s reserved for adventurous cooks with a taste for the intensely sweet anise flavour, and for surprising family and friends with the extraordinary!


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