Licorice root is used as a flavoring in candy and in beverages including some gins and liqueurs. Licorice Root contains glycyrrhizin, which is controlled in quantity in the United States, and only allowed up to certain amounts in food and beverages.
The FDA states [link] "Licorice (glycyrrhiza) root is the dried and ground rhizome and root portions of Glycyrrhiza glabra or other species of Glycyrrhiza. Licorice extract is that portion of the licorice root that is, after maceration, extracted by boiling water. The extract can be further purified by filtration and by treatment with acids and ethyl alcohol. Licorice extract is sold as a liquid, paste ("block"), or spray-dried powder."
Licorice is also used as a flavoring in food. Many “licorice” or “licorice flavor” products manufactured in the United States do not contain any licorice. Instead, they contain anise oil, which has the same smell and taste. [link]
"FDA experts say black licorice contains the compound glycyrrhizin, which is the sweetening compound derived from licorice root. Glycyrrhizin can cause potassium levels in the body to fall. When that happens, some people experience abnormal heart rhythms, as well as high blood pressure, edema (swelling), lethargy, and congestive heart failure." [link]
The United States FDA lists the status of licorice as a flavoring as [link]. A more detailed status listing can be found here [link].
- Licorice and derivatives (ammoniated glycyrrhizin, glycyrrhiza) - FLAV, GRAS
- < 0.05% Baked goods - Flavor, Flavor enhancer, a surface active agent;
- < 0.1% Alcoholic Beverages;
- < 0.15% Nonalcoholic Beverages;
- < 1.1% Chewing Gum;
- < 16.0% Hard Candy;
- < 0.15% Herbs & Seasoning;
- < 0.15% Plant Proteins;
- < 3.1% Soft Candies;
- < 0.5% Vitamins & Minerals;
- < 0.1% All other food
The percentages correspond to "Maximum level in food (percent glycyrrhizin content of food) (as served)"
Europe [note that this does not give us legal limits]:
The European Union studied glycyrrhizinic acid in 1991 [link]. "The Committee considered it prudent that regular ingestion should not exceed 100 mg/day, while it was explicitly mentioned that this was a provisional figure, which should be updated when new data would become available. It was recognised that studies in human volunteers were in progress, the results of which were expected to be highly relevant (SCF, 1991)."
An update to the study notes Upper Use Levels (UULs) of ammonium glycyrrhizinate and glycyrrhizinic acid in foods from various categories, as specified by EFFA:
Non-alcoholic (“soft”) beverages 50 200@
2 Alcoholic beverages 135 - 550# 200@
@ = "In several alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and in teas, levels of glycyrrhizinic acid have been detected
which are higher than the UULs specified in this table (see main text, section on exposure). This is probably
explained by the fact that these beverages and teas are not flavoured with glycyrrhizinic acid or ammonium
glycyrrhizinate as such, but are produced with Glycyrrhiza plant extracts or with dried plant material."
According to the United States FDA [link]:
Licorice: This would appear to be a fairly harmless snack food. However, for someone taking Lanoxin (digoxin), some forms of licorice may increase the risk for Lanoxin toxicity. Lanoxin is used to treat congestive heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms. Licorice may also reduce the effects of blood pressure drugs or diuretic (urine-producing) drugs, including Hydrodiuril (hydrochlorothiazide) and Aldactone (spironolactone).