A brief history of liquorice a.k.a. drop

A brief history of liquorice a.k.a. drop

A favourite snack of the Dutch nation; you can find around 80 different kinds of liquorice- from salty to sweet on your supermarket shelves or in a sweet shop.

Liquorice: What is it?

Liquorice is a sweet made from the juice extracted from the root of the Glycyrrhiza Glabra, which belongs to the Fabaceae family. The liquorice many (but not all of us) know and love today is made from this juice, which is then combined with sugar, a binder and a base of acacia gum, gelatine or otherwise. The flavour is also reinforced by the addition of aniseed oil.

When was liquorice discovered?

Liquorice has been around for quite some time. It was used way back in the ages of the pharaohs and other greats, such as the Caesars, for its medicinal purposes- often for coughs or stomach ulcers. Back then of course, they didn’t turn the juice from the liquorice root into tasty little sweets- they just chewed on the root.

In 1731, the Italian, Giorgio Amarelli discovered a way to process the juice from the liquorice root and make sweets. So, no- liquorice is not actually Dutch, even though the Netherlands produces the most liquorice in the EU, and eats the most in the world- it is actually an Italian invention and grows in warm countries.

Medicine and confectionery

Liquorice was first sold as a medicine to help those dealing with upset stomachs and coughs, but it quickly became a treat for sweet tooths, and it’s no wonder, as the natural sweetener found in liquorice-root extract is 50 times sweeter than sugar. The usage might have changed but Amarelli liquorice is still being made according to the original recipe.

Apart from medicine and confectionery, liquorice is also used as a tobacco flavouring and moistening agent.

Liquorice in the Netherlands

The Dutch are crazy for liquorice, eating on average two kilos per person per year. That’s around 32.000.000 kilos per year!

Main categories of Dutch liquorice 

  • Soft and sweet
  • Soft and salty
  • Hard and sweet
  • Hard and salty

Despite what you may think, the salty variety does not actually contain a lot of salt. The salty flavour can be attributed to ammonium chloride, which is also used in making the salmiak variety of liquorice.

Mina Solanki


Mina Solanki

Completed her Master's degree at the University of Groningen and worked as a translator before joining IamExpat. She loves to read and has a particular interest in Greek mythology. In...

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