If there’s one thing that can be said about licorice candy, it’s that it’s no one’s favorite. Seriously, what flavor is black licorice to have earned the top spot on the least of worst Halloween candy and become the topic of countless jokes?
But, if you were one of those kids dreading licorice at Halloween, you might be surprised to learn tides are changing. According to several studies, younger consumers have become actively interested in licorice candy in recent years (they must’ve missed all the jokes).
They primarily define the chewy candy market (which includes licorice) these days. These youngsters are actively looking for new tastes, unique textures, and attractive visuals. The perception and production of this traditional confectionary are changing and changing quickly. So if you’ve been put off by the “bad Halloween candy” jokes, now would be just the time to learn more about it and maybe give it a chance.
What is Licorice Candy?
Usually, when one imagines licorice candy, it’s in the form of a soft and chewy small confection, either black or very dark brown in color.
And while the traditional black licorice is one of the, if not THE, most popular licorice candy varieties around, the truth is there are a wide variety of licorice sweets produced around the world.
These days you’ll encounter licorice candy in a wide variety of colors: black to red to green to even white. And a wide variety of forms: drops to wheels to twists to even animals (have you heard about Swedish Fish?).
Even licorice flavor isn’t as ubiquitous a term as it once was. These days licorice candy comes not only in traditional licorice flavoring but in a wide variety of fruity flavors and even - wait for it - salt.
As for texture, licorice candy can range from soft and chewy to hard pastilles to even brittles.
The term “licorice candy” has come to include a vast assortment of confectionaries and whatever you imagine it to look like… Well, there’s very likely a licorice candy looking exactly like that somewhere out there. It’s just not the only one by a long shot.
What is Licorice Candy Made Of?
Despite the wide variety of flavors, colors, and shapes licorice candy comes in, all of them are made from essentially the same ingredients with minor changes, mainly when it comes to flavoring.
Confusing, I know.
No matter what it’ll look like by the time it is done, the base for all licorice candy is essentially the same - some type of flour. Traditionally, it’s wheat flour, but with the rise of gluten-free product popularity, some manufacturers have started experimenting with other flours and starches to accommodate the market demands.
Then comes the sweetener. A very traditionally minded producer would use molasses, but that’s exceedingly rare these days. Sugar is the most commonly used sweetener, but in the last couple of decades, some have switched to corn syrup (both to cut down on production costs and prolong the shelf life of the product). Maple syrup or honey can also be used as sweeteners, usually in combination with sugar.
If your candy is marked “sugar-free,” then the sweetener used is most likely sucralose or aspartame.
Finally, a few ingredients are used to bind everything together and let the candy last as long as possible. Most commonly: gum arabic, gelatin, and sodium chloride.
How is Licorice Candy Manufactured?
So, if the base is all the same (or deviates very little), how does licorice candy vary from manufacturer to manufacturer so much?
The first step is to combine all the standard ingredients (starch base, sweetener, gum arabic, gelatin, sodium chloride), along with preferred flavoring. Flavoring is the first distinction between batches, though the process will continue the same.
The ingredients are combined until they form a paste. Then that paste is put through a nozzle that determines its shape. This is how you get a small candy, a long tube, or a twist. Molds are usually used for something more unique, like a star or an animal.
Once the candy cools and stabilizes, it’s extracted, sometimes shined with beeswax, and packaged. The longer it’s exposed to air, the harder it becomes. The soft and chewy candy is packaged almost as soon as it’s cool, while hard candy is exposed to air for much longer.
4 Most Common Types of Licorice Candy
If you go googling licorice candy, chances are you’ll be bombarded with hundreds of candy varieties from dozens of producers. Candy drops and soft chewable twists; sugar-coated and salty, flavored and “original.”
For those who’ve never tasted licorice before (or whose experience is limited to Swedish Fish and Twizzlers), the onslaught of options may get a little overwhelming. But if you take a closer look, licorice candy can easily be grouped into a distinct sub-type.
These days, licorice confectionery is most often divided into four major groups. It may sound a little dramatic, but people, especially those who are invested in finding a high-quality product (or are quickly caught up in the newest health trends), can get very serious about their licorice. Each of these candy types has dedicated fans who would not appreciate their favorite being grouped with the other.
This categorization is primarily based on the appearance and the flavor profile of the candy. And while there are certain similarities between them all, we can understand why fans can get a little defensive about their favorites - the differences are nothing to sneeze at.
1. Black Licorice
There are people out there who would argue that black licorice is the only “real” licorice. There’s even a certain logic to these claims. The candy is colored black due to being sweetened with glycyrrhizin, a compound found in the roots of Glycyrrhiza glabra, the licorice plant.
In fact, certain countries like Iceland, Finland, and the Netherlands don’t even find it necessary to mark black licorice candy as black licorice. If it’s licorice with no further distinctions, it’s supposed to be black.
Outside of Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands, and certain parts of Germany, though? It can get a little complicated.
The thing is, black licorice hasn’t been sweetened - and thus colored - with glycyrrhizin (at least not exclusively) for quite some time now. Even in these countries, where licorice is a traditional and popular confection, the root extract is often used in combination with anise oil. The practice was established primarily due to the price tag - anise extract being similar enough in flavor to the glycyrrhizin to act as flavoring without much difference in the result, especially if it’s in combination with it instead of entirely replacing it.
If the black licorice candy has been produced in the US, its chances of being even partially flavored with licorice root extract are exceedingly low. These days most US-produced black licorice is flavored with anise extract only.
What Flavor is Black Licorice?
Unsurprisingly, black licorice has a strongly pronounced anise flavor. If we’re talking regular, unsalted black licorice, the taste will be pleasantly sweet, without being overwhelming, and contain subtle bitter notes (similar to the licorice root itself).
Licorice detractors often claim that aroma and flavor remind them of medicine, but it seems to be that the placebo effect is at least partially to blame. Or, according to some working theories, it may be a similar case to cilantro or red wine tannins - some of us may be genetically predisposed to hating its taste.
Flavored black licorice has also become quite popular in the last few years. These days, it’s not uncommon to find citrus or mint-flavored licorice candy.
2. Red Licorice (Also Referred to as “Colored Licorice”)
There’s an ongoing heated debate in the small community of licorice lovers if red (or colored) licorice is licorice at all.
Well. If we get very technical, then no. The chewy candy we in the US refer to as red licorice contains no glycyrrhizin and so has no licorice flavoring at all.
But considering how prevalent it has become for black licorice to be flavored with anise instead of licorice root, does this argument have any actual legs to stand on?
Flavoring aside, red licorice candy ingredients and manufacturing process are similar to the black one. So we say it has a place on the list and are sticking to it.
What Flavor is Red Licorice?
Traditionally, red licorice is most commonly strawberry flavored. At least when produced in the US. The famous red Swedish Fish, for example, is originally lingonberry-flavored.
However, the list of red licorice flavors has expanded relatively wide over the years. At first, the producers stuck to other red fruit, most often cherry and raspberry, as well as cinnamon, which garnered a small but devoted cult following. Recently, though, different, bolder flavors and colors have started popping up, like green-colored green apple flavor and orange-colored mango flavor.
3. Salty Licorice
While the US pays the most attention to what color the licorice is, Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands, and (sometimes) Germany are more likely to group their licorice candy into salty and unsalted categories. Even though it’s not uncommon for salty licorice to be white or gray in color instead of traditional black.
Salty licorice is called “salmiaklakrits” in Sweden, “salmiaklakrids” in Dutch, and “salzlakritz” in German. But if you have trouble pronouncing its name, you can simply ask for “salmiak” in a confectionary store - and 99% of sellers will know what you’re asking for.
The name “salmiak” comes from sal ammoniac (ammonium chloride) used during the production process instead of sodium chloride, commonly used for the sweeter variety. It’s what gives salty licorice its distinctive flavor.
What Flavor is Salty Licorice?
You’d expect salty licorice to be similar in flavor to traditional black licorice due to a similar production process - and in a way, you’d be right. But depending on how sensitive you are towards salty food, you might not have an easy time catching traditional anise-like flavor.
See, the amount of salmiak salt added to the candy differs from country to country, and so does the taste. Swedish salty licorice is usually considered the strongest, as it contains, on average, around 7%. In Germany, salty licorice is broken down into grades, with any containing over 2% dubbed “adult licorice” and above 4.49% dubbed “extra strong.”
Salmiak salt gives the candy a robust astringent taste. Higher the salmiak content, the higher the chance you’ll get a flavor reminiscent of red wine tannins: strong and bitter, but with complicated layers, which many foodies tend to appreciate.
4. Sour Licorice
Sour licorice is the latest and least well-known addition to the bunch. Its history goes back no further than the 1990s. In comparison, the traditional licorice candy dates back to the second half of the 18th century.
Sour licorice is most closely related to red licorice. It contains no licorice root flavoring or anise extract, is usually fruit-flavored, and comes in bright colors. The main difference between sour licorice and red licorice is that the former is often sweetened with corn syrup alongside (and, sometimes, instead) of sugar.
What Flavor is Sour Licorice?
Sour licorice is commonly a mix of different fruit flavors, but classic strawberry seems to be one of the most popular ones.
Sour licorice is not just red licorice in acidic coating despite its similarities. Its flavor tends to start out tart as you’d expect, but underneath is somewhat tangy instead of simply sweet.
How to Choose the Best Licorice Candy as a Newbie
If you’ve never had any licorice before, we’d advise you to start with something milder and more common to your palate instead of plunging in the deep right away. Have a taste of red licorice (like these strawberry licorice candies from Finnish brand Halva), maybe even several varieties. And then move to sour licorice to up the ante a little.
After that, you can try your hand at traditional black licorice. You can start with flavored ones (like these orange flavored ones from Amarelli) to ease into it and move on to the classic anise flavor later.
Or you can go the other way around if you prefer. Just leave the salty licorice for the last. If there’s one phrase salty licorice can be described with, it’s “acquired taste.” Though, if entire Scandinavia has enjoyed it for centuries now, there’s a chance you may as well. Swedish brand Lakritsfabriken's premium salty licorice might be just what you're looking for, in that case.
Whatever you choose, we keep a great collection of licorice candy, carefully curated to satisfy even the pickiest licorice connoisseur. We have it all from soft to hard, traditional to flavored, sugar-coated to filled. You’re bound to find something you’ll love.