Wars have been fought over the issue of Red Vines vs Twizzlers. Blood has been shed. Lives ruined. Tragedy.
Well, not really wars per se, more like heated discussions ending in juvenile name calling. But blood has been shed. Really! One time, I was opening a pack of Red Vines and got a paper cut on the cardboard insert. Ok, it didn't ruin my life, but it stung like the dickens! And the tragedy was, people laughed a my pain....
When it comes to licorice, people are firmly rooted in either Camp Red Vine or Team Twizzler. And they will show loyalty to their chosen brand. I think it has to do more with regional availability rather than taste. Growing up, we had Twizzlers. Red Vines weren't sold here. And while I like Twizzlers, I prefer the flavor of Nibs.
Too bad Red Vines, Twizzlers and Nibs aren't licorice. Nope, they're a gummy-type candy whose main ingredient is flour. There is no licorice in them at all. We call it licorice because that's what the manufacturers call it. And they call it licorice because, who would buy something called "Strawberry Flavored Flour Paste"?
But the fact that red licorice doesn't contain any real licorice probably isn't a surprise to most of you. You all say it's produced for kids who don't like the actual licorice taste you get from black licorice. And I'll respond, that black licorice you've been eating? Chances are there's very little actual licorice in it, if there's any at all.
Black licorice is generally flavored with anise. It has a similar flavor profile as licorice, but they are not even closely related. True licorice is a legume. It's a close cousin to the pea. And it's been around for thousands of years.
When Howard Carter opened up King Tut's tomb, they found several hundred pounds of licorice root. But Tut didn't eat it for candy. No, for him, and many ancient peoples, licorice was a medicine, not a treat.
Licorice root tea is still used today by herbalists. Why, it can be used to stabilize the blood, (whatever that means), as a laxative, as an analgesic, (that has nothing to do with the butt. Stop it.), an expectorant and as an anti-diabetic medicine. When made into a paset and mixed with honey, licorice has been used as a salve for open woulnds to promote healing and prevent infection.
However, the most common use for licorice today is....as a flavoring for tobacco. Most American cigarettes are flavored with it. And, not only does it make the tobacco taste better, it also aids in opening the bronchial passages in the lungs, allowing for more smoke to get in.
It wasn't until 1614 in England, that someone started making licorice into a confection. While licorice is naturally sweet, in 1760 someone finally got around to adding more sugar to it during the processing phase. That made it sweeter and therefore more people bought it.
It is possible to get real licorice candy today. Amazon sells a bunch. But don't go to your local convenience store hoping to score some. All you'll get there is flour paste flavored with anise.
I've sort of ripped on licorice for being a flour paste. But the truth is, in 1614, when the first licorice candy was made, they made it into little licorice cakes called 'Pointer Cakes'. You can still get Pointer Cakes today. Notice the word 'cake'? Yes, traditional licorice is also a flour dough flavored with licorice root extract. So while I tease Red Vines and Twizzlers about being flour paste, they are a dough made with flour, just like real, honest to goodness licorice. They just don't contain any actual extract from the licorice plant.