27 Apr 2017
Salted Liquorice is something puzzling candy. When I began working in The Oatfield Sweet Shop I was asked for black liquorice so often I was questioning people’s taste buds and their sanityLiquorice is a confection flavoured with extract of liquorice root from the Liquorice plant. The base of the confection is usually made with gum arabic, gelatin or a combination of both. Originating in South Asia it spread to the Middle East and from here into Southern Europe. Growing up liquorice and anything liquorice flavoured were my Mother’s favourite sweets. The first time I tried it was enough to put me off for life! I still remember the overwhelmingly strong taste, as if it had assaulted my palate, the tough chewy texture, and the overpowering smell, it upset me greatly to say the least. With the variety of amazing coloured and flavoured liquorice cables and some even had sugar filled centres. The sweets my childhood gave me were so imaginative compared to black liquorice I couldn’t understand how she could choose black liquorice, nevermind it being her favourite. I was convinced she only ate these sweets because I would squirm every time I saw them. It was a safe option to have around the house, she could be sure her kids weren’t going to eat her stash.
The shop provided many different types of black liquorice, there was pontefract cakes, liquorice cuttings, liquorice wheels and liquorice pipes. I was dumbfounded at how popular liquorice pipes were with old and young. When I was working in the shop the new recipe Oatfield Liquorice Toffees came out on the market. We were asked to try one and I was terrified I was going to spit out the sweets in the shop! By this time I’d developed a love for all things aniseed from Black Jack’s to Sambuca so I was hopeful my tastebuds had matured to accept liquorice. Taking one for the team I held my breath and threw it into my mouth as quick as I could. I couldn’t believe what I was tasting. The liquorice flavour was in no way harsh or overpowering, the sweetness of the toffee was exactly what the liquorice needed! Liquorice toffees were soon my new ‘pick me up’ in work and the sweet I recommended to customers looking for their liquorice fix. We carried a lot of flavoured liquorice cables, Sherbet Fountains, Black Jacks, Liquorice toffee bars, and found that our handmade Liquorice fudge, made in store, absolutely flew off the shelves.
We were also asked by customers, mostly from Scandinavia or Holland, if we sold salted liquorice. This was the first I’d ever heard of it. After a few customers asked for it, my curiosity peaked. What could be so amazing about salted liquorice? I love salted everything and with my newfound appreciation for liquorice, this sounded like something I could get on board with. So many people who asked were so upset they couldn’t get their hands on it I began to think this salty-sweet delight must be next level liquorice. In the sweet shop we had a policy that if a particular sweet was asked for a lot we would get it in and see how it sells. I wanted to learn all I could about salted liquorice and what mad scientist concocted it. Looking through our wholesaler's catalogues I was blown away with the variety of salted liquorice available. There are salted, double-salted, honey salted, salt centres, salted crusts, you name it they’ve salted it! My favourite aspect of choosing the liquorice was choosing by shape, traditionally made in diamonds you can now get salted liquorice in almost any shape. There are coins, bee hives, farm animals, pipes, and my personal favourite cats!
When the salted liquorice arrived I couldn’t wait to get stuck in. Deciding to get a small selection to try first we went with the salted liquorice diamond, double salted liquorice, the honey salted liquorice, and cats! At first glance, they looked like the stuff from my childhood nightmares so I went with the cats and the honey liquorice first. I took one of the honey salted liquorice bee hives first. It was slightly salty but mostly tasted of sweet honey with an after hint of liquorice. Next, I took one of the kitties out of the bag and began to chew. This was unlike any salted confectionary I’d had before. It was like an electric shock that sent my saliva glands into overdrive. It did not taste salty to me but unbelievably sour. I’m really good with sour things, from Zed Candy’s Big Zappers to Warheads to Mike & Ikes, I don’t flinch, but this sensation would put Black Deaths to shame. My tongue was instantly numb and burning at the same time. The sensation was so unlike anything ‘salty’ I’d tried before and so intense I went straight for another one. Yep, it burns, it numbs. I thought my tongue had had enough for one day and I didn’t feel brave enough to try the famous double salted ‘Doute-Zout’. I wanted to find out how this concoction was made, but mostly why. The internet search of ‘salted liquorice’ later I was in convulsion watching hilarious videos of both kids and adults taste testing salmiakki liquorice. I highly recommend watching some. The people’s reactions and their scrunched up faces will have you in tears of laughter. I got the impression half of the salmiak bought has been spat out! It is truly an acquired taste that is loved by nations. The flavour has become so popular in Scandinavian countries there are now entire stores dedicated to salted liquorice. It is also used to flavour chocolate, ice cream, vodka, premixed cocktails, and even whiskey.
Salted Liquorice, or ‘Salty Salmiakki’ as it is known in Finland, is a confection combining the sweetness of liquorice with the salty flavoured sal-ammoniac. Sal-ammoniac is a natural rare mineral form of ammonium chloride, the earliest known salt of ammonia is from Egypt and Europe around the 13th century, with Mount Vesuvius in Italy is one of the best volcanic locations where ammonium chloride forms naturally. Although there is no exact date when salted liquorice was first made it gained popularity as a powerful cough medicine sweet in the 1930’s. Renowned for it’s ability to break down mucus in the lungs, liquorice has the magical ability to cleanse the respiratory system and help your body keep healthy mucus at the same time. The antibacterial properties were also a great benefit to dental hygiene it was made into a paste and when applied the liquorice kills bacteria. To make the confection I have grown to respect the liquorice sap is extracted from the root, which looks like mini trees themselves, the sap freely pours out and the black resin quickly hardens to form the liquorice extract. This practice has been taking place for thousands of years with records of Alexander the Great, King Tutankhamun of Egypt, and Caesar consuming liquorice. Liquorice was drunk in a tea form for it’s medicinal qualities at the time. It was recognised as a powerful spice for clearing sinuses, curing headaches and digestive complaints. The liquorice root is called ‘Glycyrrhizin glabra’ which means ‘sweet root’ in Greek. This compound has remarkable soothing health effects against stomach disorders. Glycyrrhizin has a sweet-tasting compound called ‘Anethole’, this aromatic unsaturated ether compound is fifty times sweeter than sugar! Experiments also showed that using ammoniated salts instead of other natural salts had less of a bad effect on the body. It looks like salted liquorice may be the healthiest way to eat liquorice.
Although it has many recognised health effects, liquorice is still one of the most powerful natural sugars and should be eaten in small amounts. Glycyrrhizin is only likely to effect a health issue if the person has hypertension but eating large amounts can affect your blood pressure. It’s true what they say, too much of a good thing can be bad for you, this is a sweet that demands respect on all levels. Others who recognised this founded The Finnish Salty Liquorice Association, a non-profit liquorice loving organisation who hold an event each year to announce their best-salted liquorice of the year. With all the benefits of salted liquorice, I can see why it is a favourite choice for the Scandinavian tradition ‘Lördagsgodis’. Meaning ‘Saturday Candy’ this tradition was started to study the effects of sugars on tooth decay. The tradition carries on to this day as a means to kerb sugar cravings during the week and encourage them to eat healthy sweet choices on their cheat day. If Scandinavian children can handle it surely I can handle the Doute-Zoute, surely, I feel like I at least have to try.
By Fiona G.