Love it or hate it, licorice candy is a mainstay sweet for snacking. Licorice itself is a sweet root, often used as a sweetener in candies and beverages, that has a long history of perceived medicinal benefits. Too much licorice candy can be detrimental to some people's health.
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Moderate amounts of licorice may be tasty and offer mild health benefits. Eating 2 ounces of black licorice a day for at least two weeks could cause health problems, especially in people older than 40.
About Liquorice Sweets
Licorice candy (sometimes referred to as liquorice confectionery) is an age-old candy sweetened with licorice extract. Licorice candy, for the most part, doesn't contain a lot of the extract. Hershey's Twizzlers Twists Black Licorice, for example, are less than 2 percent licorice extract.
In the list of ingredients, standard licorice candy lists licorice extract as the absolute last ingredient. Corn syrup, sugar, modified food starch, caramel color, carnuba wax and natural flavors all coming before the extract on the licorice candy ingredients list.
Read more: The Effects of Refined Sugar on the Body
A six-piece serving of licorice candy weighing 40 grams, or 1.4 ounces, contains 130 calories, 33 grams of carbohydrates and 17 grams of sugar. Licorice candy has no fat, no fiber, no protein and no notable vitamins and minerals.
Licorice extract is only an ingredient in black versions of licorice. Red ropes or vines don't contain licorice extract. Neither do the chocolate versions of some vine candies.
Licorice extract has a long history as a traditional treatment in Eastern and Western medicine, used for heartburn, stomach ulcers, sore throat, cough and bronchitis. However, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, evidence doesn't definitively support these medical uses for the root and especially does not support health claims for the candy.
Read more: The 20 Most Dangerous Halloween Candies
Possible Health Benefits: Licorice Candy
A review published in Phytotherapy Research in October 2015 explained that licorice does have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidative, antidiabetic, antiasthma and anticancer properties. However, it's unclear if these effects are present when licorice extract is used in candy.
Black licorice contains the compound glycyrrhizin, which gives the root its sweet taste. A paper published in Natural Product Communications in March 2013 that glycyrrhizic acid can offer benefits when consumed in low, appropriate doses.
But according to a publication by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in October 2017, too much licorice root and licorice candy can be detrimental to your health. The glycyrrhizin can cause a drop in your body's potassium level. The U.S. National Library of Medicine explains that potassium helps with nerve function, muscles to contraction, your heartbeat regularity and the movement of nutrients and waste into, and out of, cells.
When potassium levels fall dramatically, people may experience abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, swelling, lethargy and congestive heart failure, explains the FDA. The organization says that people who are 40 or older who eat 2 ounces (56 grams) or more of black licorice per day for at least two weeks could end up in the hospital with these complications.
These warnings are based on research published in Therapeutic Advances in Endocrinology and Metabolism in August 2012. The scientists found that glycyrrhetic acid, or glycyrrhizin, inhibits specific enzymes in the body and leads to reactions that elevate sodium levels and reduce potassium levels. They recommend that the FDA regulate licorice by placing a warning about upper limits of intake for safety.
The scientists go on to note that although licorice root may have some minor health benefits, daily use is not recommended. The adverse outcomes of eating the candy or root outweighs its possible positive effects.
- USDA FoodData Central: "Licorice"
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: " Black Licorice: Trick or Treat?"
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "Licorice"
- Natural Product Communications: "Therapeutic Effects of Glycyrrhizic Acid"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Potassium"
- Therapeutic Advances in Endocrinology and Medicine: "Licorice Abuse: Time to Send a Warning Message"
- Smart Label: "Twizzlers Strawberry Twists"
- Smart Label: "Hersheys Twizzlers Black Licorice"