I went looking for candy and found health. Thats not the way it is supposed to be; but then, I havent much of a sweet tooth. Offered a really good dill pickle or a slice of pretty good (but not fantastic) chocolate cake, I pick the pickle every time. Maybe thats why I like licorice. Licorice root is naturally sweeter than sugar but it has an astringency that perks up taste buds.
Licorice flavour is extracted from the perennial herb Glyccyrrhiza glabra. Glyccyrrhiza means sweet root. It is a common plant around the Mediterranean where it has been used as a medicine for thousands of years. Recent citations on the internet promote it as a natural remedy in an amazingly broad range of illnesses from high cholesterol and arthritis to AIDS and coughing. In China, licorice is prescribed more often than ginseng. In Europe, licorice extract is added to drops and taken like cold lozenges.
On the negative side, licoriceeven as a candycan affect those susceptible to high blood pressure; while purer forms, such as extracts, can upset the balance of salt and water in the body. Pure licorice is not recommended for people who suffer from diabetes or kidney disease or those who have had strokes.
That noted, we were after the taste of candy, which has only enough licorice for flavour. That also meant we stuck to black since red licorice does not have any of the natural herb in it. To taste the best licorice candy, I knew we would have to go to Holland or at least to the Euro-Deli, a Dutch food specialty store at 279b Lakeshore Drive in Pointe Claire.
The Dutch excel at licorice candy making and Euro-Deli stocks more than two dozen varieties. After a demanding afternoon of tasting, our panel (which consisted of a 50 year old man and a 10 year old child) decided that the best were creamy toffees, hard little cats, sweet red devils, moka flavoured striped licorice sticks, and salmich balls which have a hard outer shell covering a small mound of licorice powder. The cola bits (looks like licorice, tastes like cola) were also tasty and great for cleansing the palate.
Our choices were highly subjective. Neither of us liked the salted varieties favoured by many Europeans. Salt and licorice must be an acquired taste, even for a confirmed pickle lover. The amount of saltiness can range from the barely perceptible in TV pastilles (button shaped candies to be munched while watching television) to the diamond shaped soft zout (which means salt). Perhaps this combination of flavours can only come from a nation that pulled its land from the sea. However, everything we tasted, from the toffees and nibs to the the slap-in-the-face DZ (double salt) had a cleaner, stronger licorice flavour than generic corner-store licorice whips and drops.