Throughout my life, I've been rather indifferent to licorice (or liquorice, depending on what country you're from). I didn't really dislike it, exactly, but I also didn't seek it out, or buy it much. There were always better candies to get, such as ones which were made out of chocolate, or those composed largely of peanut butter, or caramel, etc. So when I saw a type of licorice from Australia, from the Darrell Lea company, I wasn't dazzled. I decided to give it a try, but mostly for this blog, rather than out of genuine interest. (Perhaps paradoxically, I do like absinthe (see November 18, 2015 post), which is made with the licorice-like anise flavor, but this is the exception that proves the rule, I suppose.)
The Darrell Lea company is fairly old, dating back to 1927. Their website tells a rags to riches story: first sold out of a pushcart, then made in a small factory located under the first arch of the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge, and then into the large conglomerate that they are today. The company boasts that it's 100% Australian owned, and that its liquorice is free of GMO's, trans fats, preservatives, sweeteners, and high fructose corn syrup. Also it's low in fat and salt. And their liquorice is kosher and vegetarian-appropriate. Darrell Lea's main products are liquorice stix (liquorice pieces with mango or strawberry/white chocolate filling), a "traditional liquorice mix," and several kinds of "soft eating licorice"--pineapple, green apple, mango, blueberry and pomegranate, original, and strawberry. (I was rather amused by the "soft eating liquorice" title--does that imply that there is "cleaning liquorice," or "vermin-killing liquorice," or "mathematical liquorice"?) Currently the company's products are available in the U.K., U.S., Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, Belgium, Denmark, and The Netherlands. Here in the States many stores stock them, from the chain groceries like Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Publix, ShopRite, and Giant Eagle, to stores like Target, Rite Aid, Marshalls, and TJ Maxx. Some of those I thought were clothing stores, so I don't know what is going on there.
Liquorice itself has been a popular food item for thousands of years. It was enjoyed in ancient Greece, it can be found in ancient Egyptian tombs, and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for at least 3000 years. The plant prefers a hot climate, so it grows in Southern Europe, Central Asia, Australia, and the Middle East. Liquorice is billed as being 50 times sweeter than sugar. And although its taste is very similar, it's not related to anise or fennel. Folks in France and Spain sometimes dig up the root, clean it off, and chew on it as a natural, refreshing snack.
Healthwise licorice appears to be a mixed bag. Some maintain it's useful in combatting hepatitis,certain kinds of dermatitis, hyperlipidaemia, hyperpigmentation, and dental caries. However, these claims haven't been proven scientifically. On the other hand, some health detriments have been identified. The U.S. FDA strongly urges consumers not to eat more than 70-150 grams (2.5- 5.3 ounces) daily, lest they develop edema, hypokalemia, weigh loss/gain, or hypertension. So I guess licorice is something that should be an occasional treat rather than a regular part of one's diet.
Anyway, I was able to buy the original flavor, and the strawberry kind, at Wegman's. Both came in rod-shaped pieces, rather than the long stringy "ropes" that are traditional in U.S. licorice. The rods were about 5 cm. long (or about 2 inches) and about 1 cm. (or about half an inch) wide. The original flavor pieces were jet black, while the strawberry ones were bright red. The taste for both was surprisingly impressive. Richer and fuller than I expected. Much better than the common U.S. Twizzlers. (I haven't sampled the U.S. West Coast-based Red Vines, so I can't comment on them as a comparison.) For the first time I really enjoyed a licorice candy. I'll look for these again, and seek out their alternate flavors too. The website and bag label boast that their liquorice secret is that they gently cook it to seal in moisture, and then they "add in a good dose of Australian magic." So even if the latter is ground up wombats or something, the results are very good. If you like licorice, or even if you're mostly ambivalent about it like I am normally, you might want to give the Darrell Lea's liquorice a try.
One final odd tidbit--evidently over 60% of the liquorice harvested every year goes to flavoring cigarettes and other smoked/chewed tobacco products.