I love licorice. It is hands down my favorite choice from any aisle, bag, box or bin in the candy store. A lot of people love chocolate and so do I, but it’s not even a close second to licorice in my book. Furthermore, I have a lifetime of experiences with licorice to where I am a practiced judge when it comes to flavors, textures, and brands. Red or black, sweet or salty, soft or hard, domestic or imported. I am a connoisseur of this unique confection.
I was tastefully (ha) reminded of my licorice obsession this past Christmas. My son and his wife gave me a Santa’s bag worth of the black and red (and yellow, green, and orange). There were over twenty flavors, brands and colors in the bag. For most people this would be a year’s worth of satisfaction. For me, I’ve made a pretty good dent after just three months. I’ll probably be looking to replenish my stash sometime this summer.
Licorice has come a long way since my childhood years. My dad also had an affection (confection?) for licorice and he introduced me to a hard chewy black button known as the “Heide”, from the Henry Heide candy company. To this day, the Heide is still my favorite licorice. Years ago Heide was snapped up by a bigger candy manufacturer. Before they were, I wrote them a letter and expressed my appreciation for their wonderful licorice products. In return they sent me a generous box of samples and a small book that told the story of their product. I wonder if companies still make that gesture today when they hear from their satisfied consumers.
Inevitably I get the question “red” or “black”? Until recently I gave a rather smug answer, saying “black” is the only real licorice by definition. Then I discovered the product of a small New Zealand company, through my local natural foods store. Their soft, red raspberry licorice knocked me over; so much so that I sent my dad a bag. It’s made from organic ingredients local to New Zealand, with a full-bodied fruity taste (no, I’m not talking about wine). Isn’t it a wonder a product so unique and captivating can travel halfway around the world to the shelves of my local organic grocery? Life is good.
I have several childhood memories of licorice. Heide made other licorice-like products, including Jujubes, Jujyfruits, and Red Hot Dollars. “Switzer’s” was a common brand years ago with a twist product similar to today’s “Twizzlers” or “Red Vines”. Finally, I know I’ve eaten miles of “shoelaces” – the kind of licorice that some would call edible phone cable.
Here’s a fact that’s probably true of a lot of candies. A generation or more ago licorice was made with “real” ingredients. Even inside of the harsh plastic wrapper, you would find some derivative of licorice root in the ingredient list. Then a really smart food chemist came along and figured out how to imitate for cheaper. Any connection to real licorice disappeared, at least in this country. But in the last few years I think we’re getting back to where we belong. Whole organic foods are becoming the norm. Even prepared foods, like my New Zealand brand licorice, are made from raw, natural, healthy ingredients. For that reason, I will continue to be a connoisseur of the world’s brands of true licorice. The next generation can have their Red Vines.