The Swedish Obsession with Licorice {Candy Series Part III}

Today I attended Lakritsfestivalen, a new annual show dedicated to the plant, licorice. Yes, licorice is on the verge of the next culinary explosion and it’s fitting that the country to lead the licorice extravaganza is Sweden.

This is part III on my Swedish Candy Series. Be sure to check out parts I and II.
Plockgodis – Be an Expert at Picking from the Candy Bins
An Introduction to Swedish Candy

What godis (candy) do you love?

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Swedes love licorice, as they love candy. There is no group of people more obsessed by this root, say for the Finns, than the Swedes. Sweet, salty, neutral are ingrained in Swedish candy culture.

Americans on the other hand, find licorice to be downright bizarre. Even though the US produced two of the oldest licorice candies, Good & Plenty and Crows, you will see few Americans indulging in a licorice root.

And so I went on a quest for understanding why Swedes love licorice and where that love stems from.

A table full of candy from Beriksson’s Import at Lakritsfestivalen

The answers, from various licorice confectioners, writers, and a herbalist was surprising.

Annica Tryberg, coauthor of the book Lakrits, said, “Licorice falls into the Swedish palette: salty and sweet. Many Swedish dishes like gravad lax and types of sill are salty. Salty licorice brings out comforting, homely flavors that we love.”

Pelle Petterson who works with importing Icelandic licorice said, “Icelanders love strong, salty licorice, it matches our taste for food very well. They were also the first to commercially produce chocolate with licorice, Freyja’s Draumur, which could be loved by everyone.”

Many people said licorice candy is popular because of the love for salty foods. Sweden, and the rest of the Nordic region, had to rely on salted meats and fish to last through the long winters. That love of salt did not dissipate when licorice was introduced at the apoteket as a medicinal product in the 1800s.

I think that since licorice gives an adrenaline boast, it can improve people’s spirits during the long winters and combat SAD (seasonal affected disorder).

In the 1800s the apotek {pharmacy} sold licorice roots as a medicinal product. Lisan Sundgren, a herbalist and cofounder of Queen of Licorice, a natural beauty company using licorice, said, “To aid with digestion, psoriasis, dandruff, the dry cough, all common ailments in in Sweden, licorice was and still is a natural remedy. It’s cheap and safe for the body.”

Sweet licorice in the form of licorice paste could also be found at the apotek to satisfy a sweet craving. Liquorice’s sweet tasting component is the glycyrrhizin acid, a compound 30-50 times stronger than sucrose (natural sugar).

In the 1930s Malmö Lakrits Compani (later Malaco) formed and began selling Sweden’s first licorice candy.

While several licorice candies were on the market by that point, Swedish licorice differed in flavor from its Anglo counterparts. Swedish lakrits was stronger and salter. Part of it was the licorice paste (the extract) and part was the usage ammonium chloride to give licorice a strong, pungent flavor known as salmiak.

Today, licorice is enjoying rock star status as the next big thing in the culinary world. While children may still eat Panda lakrits and licorice ropes, adults are experimenting with licorice powder, paste, and syrups.

Cupcake STHLM licorice cupcakes

Still, the best answer to why Swedes are in love with licorice could be answer by Martin at Cupcake STHLM.

“Swedes and licorice have similar personalities: it takes time to become friends and break down a Swede’s barrier. In the same way, it takes time to learn and love the taste of licorice.”

I agree. Even though I may not allow the lakrits plockgodis to fraternize with the chocolate pieces, I feel in love with licorice today. It took me thirty years.

Do you love licorice?

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12 thoughts on “The Swedish Obsession with Licorice {Candy Series Part III}”

  1. I don’t like Licorice at all, but when I tasted Salta Katten, I fell in love with the taste. It’s so good! Too bad it isn’t available here. :(

  2. One of my favourites is licorice and lemon ice ceam. The ice cream van used to have an ice cream called Tiger when I was a child, it was yellow and black striped, lemon and licorice. Now that flavour is found in ice cream in most grocery stores. Love it!

  3. Love, love, LOVE licorice! Remember when I lived in Madrid and got a bag full of really salty licorice sent from home. I decided to share with my friends from Spanish class, mostly students from the US. When I first told them I had licorice from home they thought I was mad for liking this old-lady-candy. After some confusion I realized that they were talking about the viol kind of licorice, which is certainly old-lady-candy for me as well.
    Anywho… I passed the bag around and almost all of them made funny faces and at least three had to spit out this extremely salty black thing they were hesitant to try in the first place.
    Well… that just meant more candy for me (and the two Germans who loved it).

  4. Many older brits love it too – my mother said that as there was no sugar over here during the war, the children were given liquorice roots to chew on, and they were so tough they could last three weeks. I bought some at a health food stall in the market a few years ago – just vile! There is a really slight level to the sweetness in its natural form, and the saltiness is far stronger. However, british teeth at that time were said to be far better and stronger than they ever were before or after!

  5. Hello!
    I´m coming in Sweden in July for a year! I love new cultures and new experiences that´s why i choose to come in Sweden (as an exchange student i could go anywhere in Europe but i choose Sweden:p). I am from Cyprus so scandinavia seems very different for me!
    So i wanted to be prepared for what i will live during this 1 year and i was reading in blogs abobut life in Sweden and things like that, and i found this blog which is really interesting!
    and seriously im really looking forward to move in sweden and meet as many people as i can!!!!! :)

  6. Licorice is great, Good and Plenty are a favorite as are black licorice jelly beans. Have tried to the salty licorice from Sweden….spit it out. Thinking I got a bad piece I tried another…spit it out as well but I like sil and gravlax maybe theres hope for me to become a swede! Do they sell red licorice there? Its not very good, I stay with black licorice.

  7. I am in love with licorice! When I was 3 yrs old, I lived i Oak Ridge Tennessee. We had a guy who came around in a candy truck. He sold the best licorice I’ve ever eaten. I can still get a craving for that delicious treat. I now order from Amazon. It is made in Netherlands. It’s perfect!

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