What is Licorice: Benefits and Uses
Traditional Middle Eastern and European cuisines use liquorice as a flavoring ingredient. The roots of the herb have a very distinct sweetness that makes it a very good ingredient in sweets, cakes, and candies. Some cultures wash the roots and chew them as licorice candy sticks. Others use it to impart flavors in drinks. No matter how it is used, licorice contains phytochemicals that can bring a host of benefits, too.
What is Licorice?
When people talk about licorice, they always refer to a type of ingredient used in many confectioneries. What they don’t know is that this is an herb, with the root being the most important part of the plant. So, what is licorice made of? If you’re referring to the confectionery form of licorice, then it is composed of a licorice extract, a binder, and sugar. The binding agent is often a combination of flour, gelatin, and gum Arabic.
Many people combine licorice with other ingredients, like aniseed, menthol, mint, and laurel. If you mix licorice with ammonium chloride, you will get a salmiak licorice. This results in salty licorice.
Authentic licorice almost always has a black color. As such, if you see red-colored licorice, then you know that this is not the real thing. Red licorice does not contain licorice extract. Authentic licorice confectioneries always include licorice extracts in addition to sugar and a binding agent. Red liquorice only includes sugar and binders. Some will include fruit flavors to enhance the flavor profile of the ‘fake’ licorice.
Benefits of Licorice
People have been using licorice for thousands of years. Many of them use the herb in the treatment of different health problems. Some drink licorice tea to help in the management of stomach ailments. Other people use it in the management of other health conditions. Here is a list of the benefits of licorice.
- Aids in the management of type 2 diabetes
There are interesting studies that show liquorice contains anti-diabetic substances. Three of these are the isoflavonoids called ‘amorfrutine’, ‘glabrene’ and ‘liquiritin’. Both glabrene and liquiritin have estrogenic properties that can help improve the way cells respond to the presence of insulin. It can increase their sensitivity, allowing individuals with Type 2 Diabetes to better manage their insulin resistance. Amorfrutine in liquorice can also help in preventing insulin resistance.
It is for this reason that licorice can be a good treat for people who have Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. It is sweet. However, licorice also contains substances that can increase the sensitivity of cells to insulin. This allows the cells to utilize glucose in a more efficient manner.
- Helps in improving respiratory function
Licorice also contains glycyrrhizin. This is a saponin that is present in licorice root. It also gives licorice its distinct sweetness. What many do not know is that glycyrrhizin also has antimicrobial and antiviral properties. The compound also possesses anti-inflammatory and hepato-protective properties.
Because of the anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial action of glycyrrhizin, licorice can also help improve respiratory function. It can help reduce irritation and swelling of the airways. This can lead to more efficient breathing. Licorice can also help stimulate the production of mucus. This can aid in the more efficient humidification of inhaled air. It can also trap dirt and debris before they enter the lungs.
- Relieves symptoms of digestive problems
The same anti-inflammatory properties of liquorice can help in the management of digestive problems. A 2012 research showed that licorice extract can help relieve stomach pain. While the study did not describe how licorice can relieve pain, people believe that it has something to do with the anti-inflammatory properties of glycyrrhizin.
In 2013, the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences published a study about the effects of licorice on Helicobacter pylori. This is a bacterial species that are often implicated in the formation of ulcers. One can say that the antimicrobial properties of glycyrrhizin have something to do with the neutralization of the bacteria.
Licorice can also help in the management of acid reflux disease, indigestion, and heartburn. This makes licorice a good alternative to conventional antacids.
- Helps manage skin infections
The glycyrrhizin compound in liquorice can also help in the management of skin disorders. It can relieve the scaling, itching, and redness associated with eczema. There are studies that show the antimicrobial properties of licorice root can help kill the bacteria that cause skin infections. An example of such bacteria is Staphylococcus aureus. This microorganism can cause folliculitis, cellulitis, and impetigo.
- Protects the liver
Japanese traditional health care practitioners use glycyrrhizin as a pro-drug. This phytochemical can help lower the risk of developing liver cancer in people diagnosed with chronic hepatitis C. The compound exerts its antiviral activity to reduce the severity of hepatitis symptoms.
Uses of Licorice
Liquorice can have many uses. Enjoying a licorice candy can provide the amazing benefits of the different phytochemicals present in the plant. You can also use it to add a different kind of sweetness to your drinks. In general, we can categorize the different uses of licorice into three:
- As an ingredient in confectioneries, other foods, and beverages
Licorice is a popular ingredient in many sweets, candies, and cakes. There are also licorice tea and licorice-flavored beverages. People rely on the herb’s natural sweetness to impart a different flavor to their recipes. Some tobacco products also contain licorice to provide smokers a different kind of experience.
- As an adjunct to conventional treatments
Some medicinal uses of licorice do not have the support of empirical evidence. However, this does not stop some healthcare practitioners from using licorice in the management of different health conditions. Some of the health conditions that licorice has been proven to be effective include eczema and dyspepsia. It can also be effective against dental plaques, canker sores, hepatitis, and high cholesterol levels.
- As a health supplement
Whether or not you have a medical condition, licorice can be a great supplement to take. It has a rich blend of phytochemicals that have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, estrogenic, and antimicrobial properties. They can also help protect the liver against damage. These compounds can also help address insulin resistance and reduce the risk of diabetes.
Liquorice is an herb that can provide a distinct sweetness to our sweets, candies, and other confectioneries. It also contains compounds that can aid in the management of certain diseases while promoting general health.