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Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is native to southwestern Asia and the Mediterranean region and has been cultivated in Europe since at least the 16th century. Spain and Italy have long been major producers of Licorice. The rhizomes and roots, which are used as a flavoring, contain glycyrhizin, a compound 50 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar). The dried roots are still sometimes sold as a sweet. Typically, the juice is obtained from the root and concentrated by boiling. The solid extract obtained this way is used to make sweets such as licorice sticks and candy. Licorice was known to the ancient Greeks and Romans and in the 16th century Spanish monks living in Yorkshire had a monopoly on Licorice production in England.

Licorice is a perennial herb in the legume family (Fabaceae), growing to a height just over 1 m. Its pinnate leaves are composed of 9 to 17 leaflets. The numerous blue flowers (1 to 1.5 cm in length) are borne in long conical heads and give rise to reddish brown pods (1.5 to 2.5 cm long), each of which contains three or four seeds. In cultivation, Licorice plants are allowed to grow for 3 to 5 years before being harvested, by which time the plant has formed an extensive system of rhizomes and roots in well drained soils, reaching a depth of 1 m and spreading for several meters.

(Vaughan and Geissler 1997)


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