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Licorice Candy, from King Tut til Today

Today, when people think of licorice, they think of Twizzlers.  They think of the chewy, fun to eat berry, chocolate or original flavored twists they’ve known and loved since childhood.  What most people don’t know about is licorice’s exciting history, and its origins – not as a candy – but as a natural remedy to several common ailments.

That’s right; licorice wasn’t, and still isn’t, always enjoyed as a sugary snack!  In fact, ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs cite licorice as a popular, thirst-quenching drink, particularly amongst warriors who journeyed long distance on foot
Licorice has also been relied upon for centuries as a natural remedy to several different ailments and illnesses.  It has been known to calm sore throats and upset stomachs, which is why it is often found in teas marketed to soothe.  It can be used to treat and help prevent stomach ulcers, can act as an anti-inflammatory and is often used in weight control treatments.  Documentation cites such men of history as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte as avid licorice users!

Of course, licorice is most used, and best enjoyed, for its deliciously sweet flavor.  But how did licorice evolve into the candy we enjoy today?  Licorice candy originated in Holland.  During the 17th century, sailors brought the sweet with them on their voyages and distributed it throughout Europe.   Of course, the licorice candy as it was originally produced in Holland is quite different than everyone’s favorite Twizzlers.

Licorice candy is typically made in one of two ways.  Trays of licorice are made when hot syrup containing licorice is poured into molds coated in cornstarch to prevent sticking.   The firmness of the candy depends upon how the syrup is cooked.  Licorice is often glazed before packaging.  
Another common process is called rope extrusion.  Licorice syrup is boiled to a certain temperature, and then flavors and colors are added.  The mixture continues to cook until it reaches a thicker, doughy consistency.  It is finally loaded into an extruder and forced out of small holes and twisted into ropes and other shapes.
Many licorice candies, including Twizzlers, do not actually contain licorice root extract because the flavor can be easily synthesized with other ingredients. 

Y&S Candies, the manufacturers of Twizzlers candy, is one of the oldest confectionery firms in the United States.  According to the Hershey’s candy website, the company was established in 1845 as Young and Smylie.  Young & Smylie and two other companies merged to form the National Licorice Company in 1902.  In 1969, the company changed its name to Y&S Candies Inc. and was bought by Hershey Foods in 1977.  The original flavor introduced in 1845 was licorice, but the since the 1990s, the chewy candy has been produced in a wide variety of flavors like strawberry, chocolate, cherry, and watermelon.  Other variations include a popular licorice flavored treat called Nibs, or bite sized treats.  Pull 'n' Peel hit the market in 1994, and both Twerpz and Strawz emerged in 2004.   Limited edition candies like cherry cola and rainbow colored fruit flavors were introduced in 2006 and are still enjoyed at home and as movie theatre snacks.

Though licorice today is quite different than that enjoyed by King Tut in Ancient Egypt, the different varieties produced over the years, including such favorites as Crows, Good n Plenty and Twizzlers make licorice treats a nostalgic favorite.
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