Licorice – healthy snack with few calories?

Strings rolled up into a snail, sticks coated with sugar or hard liquorice in the form of lozenges: It doesn’t matter which variety – the black color is characteristic of liquorice, for which the  sap  of the liquorice bush is responsible (even if the color is often artificially helped nowadays). It is less well known that liquorice also has medicinal effects. But does that mean liquorice is healthy? How many calories does the candy contain and can eating liquorice also have side effects? Read that and more here!

What is liquorice made of?

The main ingredient in liquorice is an extract obtained from liquorice root, which gives the product its characteristic  taste  . Licorice comes from the legume family. The roots of the liquorice plant were already harvested in ancient times. The root bark contains glycyrrhizin, a glycoside (a sugar compound) that gives liquorice its flavor and is fifty times sweeter than cane sugar.

Liquorice from Germany contains at least five percent dried liquorice root extract, which can be obtained from various types of liquorice. Other ingredients are sugar, glucose syrup, starch,  gelatinesalt , various flavors, sugar color and salmiak. The latter is the  mineral  ammonium chloride.

Liquorice: Calories and Nutritional Values

100 grams of the candy has about  360 kilocalories  (1,507 kilojoules). Compared to other sweets, such as whole milk chocolate (about 550 kilocalories) or vanilla ice cream (175 kilocalories), liquorice ranks in the middle in terms of calories.

In addition, liquorice contains only 0.4 grams of fat and at least 3.8 grams  of protein  and one gram  of dietary fiber .

Is liquorice healthy?

The liquorice root has always been said to have a positive effect. The juice of the plant was already used in ancient Egypt and Greece to treat numerous diseases. Licorice also plays an important role in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

 Today, liquorice roots are also used in herbal remedies such as  teas , cough syrup and cough lozenges due to their  expectorant  and  anti-inflammatory effects . The plant is also  said to have antibacterial antiviral  and  liver-protecting properties  .

The secondary plant substances contained in liquorice, so-called triterpene saponins, are responsible for this health effect. These include  flavonoids , coumarins and, in the case of liquorice, especially glycyrrhizin.

In addition, other effects are attributed to the consumption of liquorice:

  • Italian researchers suspect that regular consumption of liquorice could melt fat deposits. In addition to the glycyrrhizin it contains, this may also be due to the appetite-suppressing effect of liquorice.
  • By blocking enzymes, licorice is said to increase libido in women.
  • The glycyrrhizin contained in liquorice could also help against  Corona  . Antiviral effects have been demonstrated in the laboratory, which also disrupt the multiplication of the coronavirus. However, no comprehensive human studies are available to date.

Basically, it can be said that liquorice root, the extract of which is contained in liquorice, can definitely score with a healthy effect. But you should remember that liquorice contains a lot of sugar (depending on the variety, around 50 grams per 100 grams), and that if consumed in too large quantities, it can also have side effects.

Liquorice: side effects from consumption

As good as liquorice tastes to many people and as healthy as liquorice can be in certain quantities – this candy requires caution. When glycyrrhizin is broken down,  glycyrrhetinic acid is produced,  which inhibits an enzyme in the hormonally controlled mineral balance.

This can lead to an excess of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. As a result, this can lead to water and sodium accumulations and potassium losses.

If you eat too much liquorice, the following symptoms can occur:

Due to the effects of liquorice on blood pressure, people with  high blood pressure  and cardiovascular diseases as well as  diabetes should  avoid the food or only consume it in very small amounts.

In addition, the salmiak contained in liquorice can also have health side effects. In excess, the mineral impairs the ion balance in the human body. This can lead to  nausea  and vomiting and even neural disorders. In the worst case, the blood can become too  acidic  (metabolic acidosis).

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment therefore advises limiting the consumption of liquorice – the limit for the daily consumption of glycyrrhizin for healthy people is  100 milligrams,  which corresponds to about  50 grams of liquorice.

What is “adult liquorice”?

So-called “adult liquorice” is a liquorice product with a particularly high salmiak content. If this exceeds two percent, the liquorice product must contain a warning (“Adult liquorice – no children’s liquorice”). If the ammonia content is over 4.5 percent, the product carries the warning “Extra strong, adult liquorice – no children’s liquorice”. In particular, imported goods, for example from the Netherlands, often have a particularly high ammonia content of up to 7.99 percent.

Licorice during pregnancy and lactation

Licorice is also not recommended during pregnancy, as it can also increase the concentration of cortisol in the fetal circulation. A Finnish study with 1,049 participants suggests that this could have a negative impact on the child’s later cognitive abilities. 51 of the participants had consumed about 500 milligrams of glycyrrhizin per week during pregnancy. The children of these women showed difficulties in spatial perception and concentration, among other things, at the age of eight. There have not yet been any further studies with humans on a possible connection. However, animal experiments show similar results.

So far, there have been no scientific studies on the consumption of liquorice while breastfeeding. To be on the safe side, breastfeeding women should only enjoy liquorice in small quantities.

History of Liquorice

The “liquorice thaler” used for medicinal and therapeutic purposes has been documented in English Pontefract since the beginning of the 17th century. In 1760, the pharmacist George Dunhill added sugar and flour to the thalers there and proclaimed the invention of sweets for himself.

However, liquorice may have also reached Central Europe with other colonial goods – the fact that it is still widespread today, particularly in regions near the sea, speaks in favor of this theory. Incidentally, the Netherlands are the world champions when it comes to licorice consumption – an average of two kilograms are eaten there per person per year, ten times as much as in Germany.

Liquorice in Germany

Liquorice is a popular food in Germany, which is offered in very different variants. The range of variations and methods of preparation are very diverse and range from liquorice sweets to liquorice snails and liquorice liqueur. The taste also varies from tart or mildly sweet to salty to the strong aroma of ammonium chloride (salmiak). If you want to give desserts, baked goods or sauces a fine liquorice note, you can help with a little liquorice powder.

In Germany, liquorice is usually eaten sweetened, but the salty version is also popular in other countries. In Germany, too, there are now at least sugar-free varieties, some of which are sweetened with sugar substitutes such as stevia.

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