Sweet or Salty?

These notes on licorice tasting came from our research for a story about black licorice.

The CHOW staff tasted 15 licorices of varying origins, textures, and degrees of sweetness or saltiness. Those dubious about saline candy should not let the salmiak factor deter them. Some light salting in addition to the sweetness makes for a very likable candy, and even the saltiest varieties are not terrible. When shopping, note that licorice candy flavored with salmiak usually contains a variation of the term in its name. These brands have a slight ammonialike taste in addition to their licorice flavor. It’s pleasing to some people, freaky to others, but remember that European licorice can also be flavored with regular salt; these varieties usually include the terms lakrits or zout in their names, like Dubbel Zout. But many Euro brands contain little to no salt at all.

Pleasantly chewy Panda, popular in the United States for being the first “all-natural” brand, is from Finland, while familiar glossy Haribo wheels are from Germany. These days there are some very good varieties of sweet licorice coming from Australia as well, including fat little Kookaburra bites, which are a bestseller at every candy shop we talked to, with just the right amount of sweetness and chew. American brands tend to be flavored with anise oil rather than licorice extract, though Gimbal’s Licorice Scottie Dogs, made in San Francisco, contain both.

At Miette Confiserie, Caitlin Williams first asks new customers if they like soft or hard varieties, then moves on to the sweet or salty distinction. The best way to tell is to just start tasting; most shops will allow you to try their wares before purchasing. And don’t be afraid—according to the experts, if you taste something you don’t like it’s fine to spit it out!