You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘glycyrrhizin’ tag.

In the United States, April 12th is celebrated (or maybe “observed”?) as National Licorice Day! Happy Licorice Day! [Ed’s note: in British English, licorice is spelled “liquorice” but I guess since this piece celebrates America’s national licorice day, we will stick with American spelling]

For a while some of the people at my dayjob had an informal “candy club” on Friday, and I quickly learned that no candy (and precious few foodstuffs of any sort) evokes more passionate reactions than licorice. There are people out there who haaaaaate licorice. They just hate it! They hate licorice like it personally wronged them. Possibly it did. Although I am actually a partisan of licorice in small amounts, real licorice (as opposed to anise candy or those plastic/strawberry whip things) is uncanny stuff and the active ingredient is perfectly capable of killing people (and has been known to do so).

Real licorice (which, like real anything, is increasingly rare and expensive) is made from the roots of Glycyrrhiza glabra, a plant from the bean family which grows native in southern Europe and Western Asia. There are a host of of complex organic compounds in licorice (including several natural phenols which effectively mimic various hormones in the human body) however, so that this essay does not sound (quite as much) like a chemistry treatise I am going to concentrate on glycyrrhizin which gives licorice its strange sweetness. Glycyrrhizin is uncanny stuff–as you can see from the molecular diagram below which is glittering with hydroxyls and carboxylic groups. Glycyrrhizin is thirty to fifty times sweeter than pure sucrose (!), however the flavor is also quite distinct from sucrose (being less tart and instant but instead lasting longer and conveying more complicated nuances of flavor). This is why true licorice has such a complicated bouquet of strange and esoteric flavors both beautiful and dreadful.

Glycyrrhizin also has potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties, however it is also cortical steroid (and gut bacteria can metabolize it into other cortical steroids). To quote the abstract from an endocrinology journal article, “Glycyrrhetic acid, the active metabolite in licorice, inhibits the enzyme 11-ß-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase enzyme type 2 with a resultant cortisol-induced mineralocorticoid effect and the tendency towards the elevation of sodium and reduction of potassium levels.” On October of 2017, the FDA issued a statement that consuming the glycyrrhizin found in licorice may prompt potassium levels in the body to decline, which may lead to issues including abnormal heart rate, high blood pressure, edema, lethargy and even congestive heart failure. Glycyrrhizin is not recommended for anyone who is taking the following:

  • blood pressure medications
  • blood thinners
  • cholesterol lowering medications, including statins
  • diuretics
  • estrogen-based contraceptives
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Glycyrrhizin has also been linked with fairly sever birth defects and should not be consumed in large quantities by pregnant women.

Gosh I set out to write about how great licorice is, but instead I have written a post which more-or-less makes it sound like a poison. Obviously, licorice is perfectly safe if taken in small doses (and provided the user is not also taking any of the drugs mentioned above). Indeed, as far as I can tell, nobody has actually outright died of licorice abuse since [checks notes] uh, September of 2020, when a Massachussetts resident died of heart complications after eating a bag of licorice every day for several weeks (apparently the man ate little else). All of which is to say that licorice is mostly fine and you should enjoy its strange complicated flavor in a responsible manner. Happy Licorice Day!

Ye Olde Ferrebeekeeper Archives

October 2021
M T W T F S S
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
25262728293031