Why Swedes go crazy for licorice.
In a previous post I introduced you to Swedish candy – specifically lördagsgodis (the large quantity of candy eaten on Saturday). In that post, I mentioned how Swedes go crazy for candy every Saturday, filling their godis påse (candy bag) to the brim. Well, a good portion of that bag is often filled with lakrits, licorice.
Licorice is an oil that has been extracted from the licorice root (glycyrrhiza glabra) and has a flavoring similar to anise, star anise, and fennel. The flavor is somewhat bitter to me and often comes in chewy gelatin candies. It is hard to describe if you haven’t tasted it yourself. And if you haven’t tried it yet, you should give it a go! And I am sorry to say, Americans, but Good & Plenty doesn’t count.
Licorice comes in all shapes and sizes here in Sweden. The most popular are soft gelatin candies. Some are chewy and surprisingly strong in flavor, and others taste like plastic left out in the sun. Or, at least I think so.*
*Maybe this is a good time to say that I'm not a big fan of lakrits, even after living in Sweden for almost 2.5 years. It wasn't a flavor I loved in the US (well, I was known to eat a good amount of Red Vines during our annual family vacations in Laguna Beach, CA each year, but is that really licorice?). And it isn't a flavor I have come to love since living in Sweden. In the US, however, we are much more likely to eat red licorice; whereas in Sweden we eat black. In fact, I am not sure I have ever spotted red licorice in Sweden.
Back to Swedish licorice’s many shapes and flavors. You can find long rolls of licorice in many candy stores here. The dark rolls slightly resemble wands and are stuffed with any number of flavors and often come coated in sugar or salt. My favorite flavor? Licorice with a lemony mint filling. I might have only had a few bites of it, but it was pretty good (for licorice, at least). I am also curious to try this whisky-flavored licorice wand.
Another popular way to consume licorice is to cover it in chocolate. Genius, right? Everything is better with chocolate and this is the most likely way you will see me snacking on lakrits. Go to any grocery story or candy shop and put a few chocolate-covered licorice balls in your candy bag. The best ones are pink, covered in a raspberry (hallon) powder. In fact, hallon och lakrits (raspberry and licorice) is a great flavor combination! You can often find the flavors packaged together (like in my picture above) and can also find hallon/lakrits skalle (a half-licorice/half-raspberry skull-shaped candy). My partner thinks they are deathly good. Me? Not so much. Bubs Godis, the brand that makes these skull candies, definitely falls toward the plastic-left-in-the-sun side of my licorice flavor scale. If you are looking for a licorice brand that passes my taste test, I’d recommend Lakrids by Bülow instead.
Salty licorice (salmiak lakrits) is also really popular in Sweden, though I don’t personally understand why. You will find salmiak lakrits throughout the Nordic countries, northern Germany, and Benelux (the geographical territory of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg), so it isn’t just the Swedes that are obsessed. Salty licorice is licorice that is covered in…well…salt. Ammonium chloride, to be more exact. It is generally very sour and makes a bad flavor worse, in my opinion.
Legend has it that salty licorice has its origins in pharmacy stores and was first created to be used as a cough drop. It has been produced in the Nordics since the 1930s as a pastille. I can say from personal experience that it definitely will make you cough if you try it unsuspectingly. After leaving a movie theater with Swedish friends shortly after arriving in Sweden, one of my new friends offered me a hard candy, only explaining that it was a common Swedish candy (and leaving out the fact that it was a strong-by-Swedish standards salty licorice candy). I mistook the salt on the outside for sugar and popped it into my mouth. Three seconds later I spit the dark, wet candy back into my hand. It was reminiscent of the Sour Black Cherry WarHeads candy that my friends and I used to eat in the third grade with a very pinched from sourness look on our faces. Needless to say, salty licorice isn’t my favorite.
But licorice is a popular flavor here, and you can find many things colored black and smelling of that sweet-yet-bitter pungent spice. Licorice gum and ice cream, for example, are very comment in Sweden. Try the licorice soft serve at Lakrids next time you are in Sweden during the summer. Don’t worry, you can mix it with some chocolate too!
So what do you think? Are you a licorice lover? A curious licorice virgin? Or an adamant licorice hater? Let us know in the comments below. Either way, having a deathly salty licorice candy is a rite of passage in Sweden and you absolutely must try one if you are to move here. That was what I was told, at least 😉
- While it is all the same, it might be spelled differently! In American English, it is licorice. In British English, liquorice. In Swedish, lakrits.
- There is one licorice candy in Sweden that is called Gott & Blandat. While it translates to “Good and Mixed”, I can’t help but love that this candy looks like it is called “Good and Bland” to the non-Swedish eye. Might as well be, though! This is one that definitely leans toward the plastic-left-in-the-sun side.
- Licorice poisoning is a thing! Consuming more than 50 grams per day can be lethal to some sensitive groups as licorice leads to salt retention in the body. In Sweden, about ten cases of licorice poisoning occur every year!
- In 1991 (outdated information, I know, but the best I could get), annual consumption of licorice candy in Sweden was estimated to be around 1 kilogram per person (2.2 lbs).
- A group of researchers in 2009 tested the effects of maternal licorice consumption in 321 Finnish pregnant women. Their findings showed that the children who had high-exposure to licorice in the womb (≥500 mg/week) “had significant decrements in verbal and visuospatial abilities and in narrative memory and significant increases in externalizing symptoms and in attention, rule-breaking, and aggression problems”. Hot damn! Their final suggestion? “Caution against excessive intake of licorice-containing foodstuffs during pregnancy.” Noted.
- My favorite licorice comes from Lakrids by Bülow. They have a shop in Malmö!
- When in doubt, try it with chocolate!
- Licorice is no good stale. Be sure to find some that is fresh! When buying chewy candies, be sure they are semi-squishy!
Hope you learned some new Swedishness today and I’ll see you in the next post!