Definitions

Liquorice

licorice

[lik-er-ish, lik-rish, lik-uh-ris]

Spanish licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra).

Perennial herb (Glycyrrhiza glabra) of the pea family (see legume) and the flavouring, confection, and medicine made from its roots. Native to southern Europe, the plant is cultivated around the Mediterranean and in parts of the U.S. It grows to 3 ft (1 m) and bears graceful compound leaves, blue-violet flower clusters, and flat, flexible seedpods 3–4 in. (7–10 cm) long. It is 42 times sweeter than table sugar, and its flavour, similar to anise, can mask unpleasant medicinal tastes.

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Liquorice (UK) or licorice (U.S.) (see spelling differences; , or ) is the root of Glycyrrhiza glabra, from which a sweet flavour can be extracted. The liquorice plant is a legume (related to beans and peas) and native to southern Europe and parts of Asia. It is an herbaceous perennial, growing to 1 m in height, with pinnate leaves about 7–15 centimetres (3–6 inches) long, with 9–17 leaflets. The flowers are 0.8–1.2 cm (1/3 to 1/2 inch) long, purple to pale whitish blue, produced in a loose inflorescence. The fruit is an oblong pod, 2–3 centimetres (about 1 inch) long, containing several seeds.

Cultivation and uses

Liquorice grows best in deep, fertile, well-drained soils, with full sun, and is harvested in the autumn two to three years after planting.

Liquorice extract is produced by boiling liquorice root and subsequently evaporating most of the water (in fact, the word 'liquorice' is derived from the Ancient Greek words for 'sweet root'). Liquorice extract is traded both in solid and syrup form. Its active principle is glycyrrhizin, a sweetener more than 50 times as sweet as sucrose which also has pharmaceutical effects. G. uralensis contains this chemical in much greater concentration.

Liquorice flavour is found in a wide variety of liquorice candies. The most popular in the United Kingdom are liquorice allsorts. In continental Europe, however, far stronger, saltier candies are preferred. It should be noted, though, that in most of these candies the taste is reinforced by aniseed oil, and the actual content of liquorice is quite low. However, in the Netherlands, where liquorice candy ("drop") is one of the most popular forms of candy, only a few of the many forms that are sold contain aniseed (although mixing it with mint, menthol or with laurel is popular, and mixing it with ammonium chloride creates the very popular salty liquorice.)

Pontefract in Yorkshire was the first place where liquorice mixed with sugar began to be used as a sweet in the same way it is in the modern day.. Pontefract Cakes were originally made there.

Liquorice flavoring is also used in soft drinks (such as root beer), and is in some herbal teas where it provides a sweet aftertaste. The flavour is common in medicines to disguise unpleasant flavours. Dutch youth often make their own "dropwater" (liquorice water) by putting a few pieces of laurel liquorice and a piece of liquorice root in a bottle with water and then shake it to a frothy liquid. Also popular in the Netherlands is a liquorice based liqueur called "dropshot.

Liquorice is popular in Italy (particularly in the South) and Spain in its natural form. The root of the plant is simply dug up, washed and chewed as mouth-freshener. Throughout Italy unsweetened liquorice is consumed in the form of small black pieces made only from 100% pure liquorice extract; the taste is bitter and intense, also popular in the UK too 'L. Imps'. In Calabria a popular liqueur is made from pure liquorice extract. Liquorice is also very popular in Syria where it is sold as a drink. Dried liquorice root can be chewed as a sweet. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Database, black liquorice contains approximately 100 calories per ounce (28g).

Chinese cuisine uses liquorice as a culinary spice for savoury foods. It is often employed to flavour broths and foods simmered in soy sauce.

Other herbs and spices of similar flavour include anise, star anise, tarragon, and fennel.

It is also the main ingredient of a very well known soft drink in Egypt, called عرقسوس ('erk-soos).

Medicinal use

Powdered liquorice root is an effective expectorant, and has been used for this purpose since ancient times, especially in Ayurvedic medicine where it is also used in tooth powders and is known as Jastimadhu. Modern cough syrups often include liquorice extract as an ingredient. Additionally, liquorice may be useful in conventional and naturopathic medicine for both mouth ulcers and peptic ulcers. Non-prescription aphthous ulcer treatment CankerMelts incorporates glycyrrhiza in a dissolving adherent troche. Liquorice is also a mild laxative and may be used as a topical antiviral agent for shingles, ophthalmic, oral or genital herpes. Liquorice affects the body's endocrine system as it contains isoflavones (phytoestrogens). It can lower the amount of serum testosterone, but whether it affects the amount of free testosterone is unclear. Consuming licorice can prevent hyperkalemia. Large doses of glycyrrhizinic acid and glycyrrhetinic acid in liquorice extract can lead to hypokalemia and serious increases in blood pressure, a syndrome known as apparent mineralocorticoid excess. These side effects stem from the inhibition of the enzyme 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (type 2) and subsequent increase in activity of cortisol on the kidney. 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase normally inactivates cortisol in the kidney; thus, liquorice's inhibition of this enzyme makes the concentration of cortisol appear to increase. Cortisol acts at the same receptor as the hormone aldosterone in the kidney and the effects mimic aldosterone excess, although aldosterone remains low or normal during liquorice overdose. To decrease the chances of these serious side effects, deglycyrrhizinated liquorice preparations are available. The disabling of similar enzymes in the gut by glycyrrhizinic acid and glycyrrhetinic acid also causes increased mucus and decreased acid secretion. It inhibits Helicobacter pylori, is used as an aid for healing stomach and duodenal ulcers, and in moderate amounts may soothe an upset stomach. Liquorice can be used to treat ileitis, leaky gut syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn's disease as it is antispasmodic in the bowels.

Liquorice is an adaptogen which helps reregulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. It can also be used for auto-immune conditions including lupus, scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis and animal dander allergies.

In traditional Chinese medicine, liquorice is commonly used in herbal formulae to "harmonize" the other ingredients in the formula and to carry the formula into all 12 of the regular meridians and to relieve a spasmodic cough.

In traditional American herbalism it is used in the Hoxsey anti-cancer formula.

Uses with tobacco

A significant amount of liquorice production goes toward flavouring, sweetening and conditioning tobacco products. Liquorice adds a mellow, sweet woody flavour, and it masks the bad taste of low quality tobacco. The burning liquorice also generates some toxins found in the smoke, and the glycyrrhizin expands the airways, which allows users to inhale more smoke.

Toxicity

Excessive consumption of liquorice or liquorice candy is known to be toxic to the liver and cardiovascular system, and may produce hypertension and oedema. There have been occasional cases where blood pressure has increased with excessive consumption of liquorice tea, but such occasions are rare and reversible when the herb is withdrawn. Most cases of hypertension from liquorice were caused by eating too much concentrated liquorice candy. Doses as low as 50g daily for two weeks can cause a significant rise in blood pressure.

The European Commission 2008 report suggested that “people should not consume any more than 100mg of glycyrrhizic acid a day, for it can raise blood pressure or cause muscle weakness, chronic fatigue, headaches or swelling, and lower testosterone levels in men.” Haribo, manufacturer of Pontefract cakes, stated: “Haribo advises, as with any other food, liquorice products should be eaten in moderation.” A 56-year-old Yorkshire woman was hospitalized after liquorice overdose (200 grams a day)," which caused muscle failure. The hospital restored her potassium levels, by intravenous drip and tablets, allowing her to recover after 4 days.

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