How To Enjoy The Taste Of Licorice (And Why You Should)

You could throw yourself right into the deep end by forcing yourself to choke down some black licorice candy, or sip a serving of pastis, or chew a spoonful of candied fennel seeds after a nice Indian dinner. 

There is plenty of sugar in all of these options to make the experience much sweeter, but you don’t have to do any of this to start appreciating the flavor of anise.

If you’re really dead set against the taste, it might help to know a few reasons why this particular taste is a good one to tune your palate to. And it can be done. I used to avoid the flavor of anise at all costs, but, little by little, I got used to it and fully appreciate it now.

First, understand that black licorice candy is flavored with anise oil that’s extracted from anise seeds, so that familiar flavor is actually anise. Think of the popular vanilla bean pods that soak in alcohol and extract that rich, vanilla flavor. Same process, different plant. 

Licorice root itself is very mild and a little bitter, so when we’re talking about the taste of licorice candy, what we’re really talking about is the flavor anise.

The first reason you should make friends with this flavor is because it can absolutely save you when you’re ill or on the verge of getting a cold. 

When your throat is sore, you’ve got a hacking cough, and your chest is congested, licorice is the flavor you want to seek out that will help clear up the phlegm and soothe your throat. Anise has a sweet, slippery taste that is pungent and very effective. It makes you salivate, and breaks up congestion with its natural demulcent actives. So you really should learn to at least tolerate it if only for this reason.

The second reason is that anise can be a simple or complex taste, and complements an array of different flavors, from sweet to savory. A ho-hum chicken bakes into a thing of perfection with even a hint of tarragon and chervil, two of the four herbs de cuisine of France. If your cooking tends to be boring, anything anise will elevate your entire experience, from shopping to cooking to dining.

And, finally, anise has a settling effect on the stomach and aids digestion, so acquiring a taste for anise-infused digestifs like Chartreuse, absinthe, Pernod, and pastis can help calm a stuffed belly, improve digestion, and stave off acid reflux.

Because the flavor of anise is so versatile, you can choose from a wide range of cultivated herbs, liqueurs, sodas, treats, and herb combinations. 

Check out the list of common culinary herbs that have that classic anise flavor: 

  • Sweet basil 
  • Chervil
  • Tarragon
  • Liquorice root
  • Fennel
  • Sweet cecily
  • Angelica
  • Anise hyssop
  • Star anise
  • Aniseed
  • Carraway

Learning to like something you’re already set against doesn’t happen overnight. Start by tasting a leaf here and a seed there. Spit it out and rinse your mouth out after if you have to, but notice the lingering taste and find something to like about it.

Isn’t a natural sweet taste quite pleasant? Did you detect something more than familiar licorice? Be curious.

Take some mental notes, be patient, and one day, you may order a pastis to sip and enjoy, to your delight and surprise.