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The Story of Licorice

The Origin of Licorice and its Varieties and Uses in the Netherlands

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The Story of Licorice

Venco Honingdrop

Photo by Limelight. Photo © Venco.
The Dutch are crazy about licorice, or as they call it, drop, with the highest per capita consumption of licorice in the world (almost 4 1/2 pounds per person per year) giving the Dutch drop market a total value of $225,157,500.

Salty Sweet

What makes their penchant a little different is that they eat both sweet and salty versions of the candy. Yes, that’s right, I said salty licorice. They’re not alone – people in Northern Germany and the Nordic countries have a taste for it too.

'It's addictive,' says Jeroen van Schoor (12), 'I can eat a whole bag of the stuff. I like the ones shaped like racing cars.' His little sister, Malou (8), disagrees, 'The dropjes shaped like kitty cats are much nicer.' Joke Blom (52) prefers its soothing effects on the throat.

Medicinal Properties of Licorice

You see, the Dutch not only enjoy drop as a candy, but also as a lozenge when they have a sore throat. They may be onto something; licorice is widely believed to have anti-inflammatory properties and has been used as a medicine since ancient times by many cultures. In fact, licorice root was even found in Tutankhamen’s tomb.

This lingering perception that it is good for you means that Dutch mothers will often give their children a dropje in lieu of candy, ignorant that it contains just as much sugar as regular candy, in addition to a hefty dose of salt (for some varieties). Salty drop is also known to raise blood pressure. Moderation seems to be key here.

Harvesting

It may seem surprising that while the obsession with licorice is rooted in the North, the liquorice root is actually native to Southern Europe. The barky roots of the Glycyrrhiza glabra plant are harvested in the autumn, after which the roots are dried, ground and boiled. The pulp is then filtered, concentrated, poured into molds and left to dry.

The resulting product is called block licorice, which is sold to candy manufacturers, wrapped in bay leaves and transported to their factories, where it is processed further.

Salty Herring Anyone?

It's safe to say that drop is a bit of a Dutch culinary icon. The candy is available in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, including coins, long strings, called shoelaces, and cat and herring shapes. Drop is often flavored with menthol, bay leaf, or honey. In fact, the bay leaf flavor is simply an enhancement of the flavoring the bay leaves give off during transportation.

“Our biggest selling drop right now is Red Band’s Drop Fruit Duo’s, an all-in-one combo of drop and fruity wine gums,” says Lonneke Trommar, Senior Brand Manager at Venco, the drop market leader in the Netherlands. It may sound odd, but it does not taste half as funky as it sounds. But I guess that can be said of most nations’ more unusual offerings…

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