How many kinds of licorice are there in the Netherlands?!
|Licorice! Usually the name evokes a definite response from people; they either love it or they hate it. If you have a love affair going with licorice, the Netherlands is definitely the place for you – everywhere you go you will find a new licorice to try. Did you ever stop to wonder where licorice came from? Or how the Dutch came to be such devoted consumers of the black stuff?
Just what is licorice? It is the extract of a plant root. The licorice shrub is native to a wide band of the world, beginning in the Mediterranean area and extending eastward through Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Russian, then through Central Asia to China. This unique tasting herbal extract has been found in man’s written records from centuries ago. From ancient Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets come references to the use of ‘sillibanu,’ the first known name given to licorice. These tablets were from the royal library of the last great Assyrian King, Assurbanipal (650 B.C.).
The ancient Aryan cultures of India, established between 1400 and 1000 B.C. refer to the use of ‘madhuka’ or ‘madugha’, a licorice extract that was used as an amulet or love potion.
In Mediterranean cultures, especially among Arab medical practitioners, extract of licorice root was well known as a treatment for many illnesses and medical complaints.
The Dutch, through their extensive trading contracts, we exposed to licorice in many of these countries. Dutch traders, always concerned with making a profit, began to carry licorice as part of their cargo on certain legs of their journeys.
This was almost certainly who licorice was introduced to the Western world. Manuscripts from 13th century Germany, Holland and England record the use of licorice as a medicine for sore throats, coughs, chest troubles and stomach complaints. The University of Leiden Library has a poem written by Jacob van Maerlant (1235-1300) that tells of the use of ‘tsap van lecorissien’ to combat dry cough and chest pain.
In the late Middle Ages, licorice pastilles were cast in crude molds for the first time, as Dutch monasteries made ‘cough or chest cookies.’ By adding honey or sugar to the extract, the medicine was made more palatable. Eventually, this sweetened version became one of the first products of the confectionary industry, when it began in the middle 19th century.
This is all very plausible, you might thing, but where in the world did salted licorice ever come from? Once again medicine takes the honors for introducing this curiosity to the Dutch. Originally, it was a Frenchman who produced ‘trochisci Chloret ammonic,’ available at the local pharmacy in the middle 18th century for use as an expectorant.
As time passed, traders and sailors traveling in the hot climates of the Spice Islands and the Mediterranean would have learned the importance of salt in remaining healthy. Even today, Dutch sunbathers can be seen dipping into bags of salted licorice drops to keep their mouths and throats moist while in the hot sun!
Today in the Netherlands, double salted licorice has a salt content of 7-8%. If that sounds extreme to you, you would be even more surprised to learn that the Danes enjoy double salted licorice that has a salt content of 15%! Strangely enough, it is only in these northern reaches of Europe that this kind of licorice is most popular.
But salted licorice is not the only kind of licorice that you find on the shelves here in Holland, even though it does seem to be the most prevalent. The Dutch have a passion for any kind of licorice. They make it in all shapes and sizes, all hardnesses and thicknesses.
This modern licorice candy uses the plant extract for flavoring, but it is mainly a gelatin-based concoction, to which is added glucose syrup, molasses, sucrose, starch, and flour. Then it is pressed, extruded, or cast into shapes. By changing the proportions of the ingredients, hard, medium or soft candy can be produced.
Pressed candy begins as a past that is forced between rollers to form sheets of varying thicknesses. This is then dried and cut into a variety of shapes and sizes.
Extruded licorice is made from soft dough that is forced through a special machine. Out come whips, ropes, tubes, braids or ribbons. These are then cut to the desired length, dried and often covered with a glaze.
Cast licorice is actually molded in starch. Trays are filled with powdered starch, imprinted with the desired shape and then liquid licorice is poured in. They are then dried and dumped from the molds, cleaned of any remaining starch residue, steamed and polished with oil.
One last variety is call English licorice. This is actually layers of wine-gums in various flavors, intermixed with layers of licorice. It looks rather like a layer cake with black icing between the layers. The sheets are cut into a variety of shapes and sizes and packaged for sale.
Which kinds do you like the best? If you haven’t had a chance to form an opinion yet, you may now consider yourself an educated licorice shopper! Just keep that double salted stuff away from me!!