Licorice is not a common flavor in cooking. In modern times, the use of licorice is limited to sweets and candy.
Licorice extracts have medicinal properties and relieve coughs, colds, and sore throats, even bronchitis.
The plant was cultivated by the Arabs in Spain around the 9th century. Licorice was a popular flavoring in medieval times, used to add color and body to sweet and savory dishes. Licorice has been used in the past to flavor barley water, gingerbreads. Pontefract cakes from Yorkshire, England, are licorice sweets.
How to identify licorice
The licorice plant is a small perennial with purple to blue flowers, petite pods and a vertical root that may reach 3 feet (1m) while the plant itself may grow to 5 feet, about 1.5m. Licorice as condiment comes from the crushed root of the plant.
Licorice may be found as fresh or dried root pieces, ground powder from dried roots or, more common, black sticks made by boiling root juice. It can also be found as licorice extract, a concentrated flavor made by combining licorice oil and alcohol.
How to use and store
Root pieces should be crushed before use and the ground licorice kept in an airtight container. Use it quickly to prevent loss of flavor. Keep the black sticks free of moisture.
Licorice is used to make sweets, flavor syrups or chewing gum. It is also the classic flavor for some alcoholic drinks such as pernod, raki and sambucca.
How to grow
Licorice is best propagated from root cuttings; plant them in early spring in a place with rich soil and plenty of light. In the temperate regions the young licorice plants need moisture and long hot summers. The roots should be harvested around the third or fourth year, either spring or autumn.
Cooking with licorice
Most recipes will get their licorice flavor from an alcoholic drink that contains licorice.
If you are not fond of alcohol, although the root pieces may be chewed, the simplest way to try licorice is in a hot drink made by infusing the dried root in hot water.
Try to flavor a dried fruit salad with a dressing including ground licorice. Make a licorice sorbet by infusing licorice root into light homemade syrup, cooling and processing the mixture in the ice cream maker.
Try a recipe for biscotti substituting anisette with Pernod for a subtle licorice flavor.
1 3-in (8cm) piece licorice root
1 cup boiling water
Place the root in a cup and pour boiling water over. Steep for 5 minutes, drain, and drink hot or warm.
If a recipe has licorice as an ingredient and you don't have it, anise is the best substitute.
Substitute 1 Tbs of pernod, raki or sambucca, licorice flavored liquors, with 1 Tbs of arak, ouzo or pastis, anise flavored liquors.
Substitute 1 tsp licorice extract with:
- 1/4 tsp (1 drop) anise oil
- 1-2 tsp anise liquer and reduce liquid in the recipe
- 1 tsp ground licorice or ground anise.
- 1 tsp vanilla or almond extract, change of flavor.