Normally, I love anything that begins with liquor. When it comes to liquorice, however, I’m afraid my affections are lacking somewhat, especially when compared to the devotion that Icelanders feel for this controversial confectionary. So why this sense of loathing, what argument exists against this salty half-sweet and is there any chance of being converted?

Polarising foods include Brussel sprouts, coriander, goats cheese, chilli peppers, tomatoes. Now I don’t like many of these either but when it comes to liquorice, I feel truly disinclined. Liquorice is the candy you take out of the mix, not head for.

Interested to know more about Icelandic food? Check out our full article Food in Iceland | An Introduction to Icelandic Cuisine

Attitudes towards liquorice are not dissimilar to Marmite, harking back to the old marketing slogan “You either love it or you hate it.” Its flavour is derived from the Glycyrrhiza glabra plant and could be compared to star anise, meadowsweet and fennel, thought it is irrefutably unique in its aftertaste; medicinal, sickly sweet, salty, bitter. The liquorice flavour is immediate and difficult to describe—let’s just say, you know it when you’ve had it… 

For the longest time, I have wondered quietly to myself, who on earth is eating this for pleasure? 

Well, for one, my father adores liquorice, but I discounted this as a character defect early in my childhood. Now living in Iceland, my universe has been shaken. Supermarkets stock it like there’s a global shortage. My partner would readily steal it out of a small child’s hand. My Scandinavian colleagues treat my aversion as nothing less than treason. Is there something wrong with me, or something wrong with the outside world?

I’m willing to yield only slightly. I understand that liquorice was the only sweet available in Iceland over the last century—distributed in pharmacies, no less (as if that wasn’t warning enough)—and I understand its aroma permeates through the national drink, Ópal, but does this mean I want to try your liquorice-infused cake bites? Do I want a liquorice string? Do I want to put my head under the wheel of a reversing car? No… but thank you kindly for the thought.  

Am I simply being melodramatic here? Perhaps, but perhaps not. After all, eating more than 2 mg a day of glycyrrhizic acid will lead to increased blood pressure, heart palpitations and muscle weakness, as well as pushing one’s cortisol levels (aka; the stress hormone) to unfounded heights. This is a dangerous substance, conceivably more so than Hákarl or cocaine. 

With that being said, liquorice does sooth the stomach and increase stamina—it is claimed that under Alexander the Great, the Roman army could operate without eating or drinking for 10 days straight when supplied with liquorice. But then, I’m not in the Roman army, and given my newfound Christmas weight, I  seemingly can’t go 3 hours without putting something in my mouth.

See Also: Shopping for Groceries in Iceland

Acquiring the taste does not appear possible with liquorice in the same manner that coffee, sashimi or stinky tofu might be. As a greedy person, I have tried numerous times to persuade myself what I’m tasting is pleasurable, and each time I have failed. Understandably, this might hurt the feelings of my proud Viking brethren, but then, trying to shop for chocolates and candy without the tarnish of liquorish has become all too real.

This is my problem and my problem alone, unless of course you, dear reader, have picked up an accidental liquorice bar on your travels. It happens, and when it does, there’s little more you can do than weep, moan and wait for the taste to dissipate. Everything must come to an end, after all. 

Interested to hear from someone who loves liquorice? Check back tomorrow to read the full counter-argument. 

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