The productio of licorice
Licorice is a very popular confectionery. Annually 32 million kilo licorice is consumed in the Netherlands, but the production is even much higher. Dutch licorice is exported to all over the world. Dutch licorice is distinct from licorice of other (European) countries because of the use of the salt ammonium chloride (old Latin: sal ammoniac which became salmiak). Therefore, the German ‘Lakritzen’, English ‘licorice’, Italian ‘liquirita’ and French ‘réglisse’ have a completely different taste. Scandinavian licorice also contains ammonium chloride and therefore this kind of licorice is most close to the Dutch licorice.
The production process of Dutch licorice is mentioned below. The composition of licorice varies per kind of licorice.
Production process of Dutch licorice
Extract from the roots of the licorice plant The production process of licorice starts with the making of ‘block licorice’ (licorice in the form of a square). This is made from the roots of the licorice plant. Licorice root is already known for centuries, not for its taste, but for the treatment of a cough and bronchitis. Glycyrrhizic acid, a certain substance in the roots of the licorice plant has the specific flavor of licorice. The aromatisants and flavoring characteristics of the licorice root are also present in fennel and anise. To obtain the licorice roots the licorice plant is carefully dug up after four years of growth. The roots may go 4 meters deep under the ground. When the plant is dug up part of the roots is cut off. The plant is replanted and can undisturbedly grow for a year. The roots that are cut off are dried in the sun to avoid the growth of mould. Afterwards the dry roots are ground, frayed and made to pulp together with water. This pulp is filtered and concentrated. The concentrated extract is poured into blocks and is dried. The final product is appropriately called ‘block licorice’.
Dissolving block licorice
The manufacturer of licorice buy the block licorice. To make it processable it is dissolved in warm water. Because block licorice is 50 times more sweet than granulated sugar, only a little bit is needed. The final percentage of block licorice in licorice is 3%.
The other ingredients are mixed with each other without the block licorice. Water, sugar, glucose-fructose syrup, gelatin and modified starch or gum arabic are put in a kettle. In some kinds of licorice gum arabic is still used. Gum arabic is a kind of resin from the acacia tree. It gives licorice its typical gumminess. During the oil crisis of 1973 there was a gum arabic shortage. Modified starch appeared to be a good alternative. Besides that, it was much cheaper than gum arabic. Therefore, modified starch is used in most kinds of licorice.
When the ingredients are mixed thoroughfully they are heated. In 5 seconds they are heated to 135°C. The starch stiffens due to the high temperature. This causes the soft-hard structure. Except for the starch, the amount of sugar and glucose-fructose syrup also influences the structure. In general, licorice contains 30-60% sugar and glucose-fructose syrup.
To improve the mixture and smoothness of the blend it is homogenized. The mixture is pressed with high pressure through a narrow room or tube. There is more information about homogenizing under ‘technology’ in the left menu.
The mixture is vacuumed in order to remove possible air bubbles.
After the vacumation the temperature of the mixture is still high. The temperature has to be low before the final ingredients are added. With high temperatures the ingredients are damaged, which changes the flavor and smell. In cooling the mixture the added water is released as steam. This steam is released. The mixture that is obtained is called dough because the material coherence is comparable to the dough of cookies.
After cooling down the dissolved block licorice (3%), the salt ammonium chloride and possible coloring and flavoring agents are added to the dough. For sweet licorice 1% of ammonium chloride is added, for salt licorice this percentage is 4-5%.
When there has been mixed enough the licorice candies can be formed. The shapes are punched in a plate with flour. These shapes are made by sprinkling an even layer of corn starch powder on a plate. This layer is 1-2 centimeters. On the powder a hard plate (of for example plaster) with candy shapes is pushed so that the shapes of these candies is put into the flour. Corn starch has the capacity to absorb and transfer liquid without changing the shape, instead it retains its shape. Besides that, it curbs a too fast hardening of the licorice, which is not wanted. Another advantage is that after the candies dried they can be easily taken out of the powder. After this the corn starch can be used again. The process of casting happens completely automatically. A dosing machine casts exactly the same amount of mixture in each of the shapes.
The layers of starch powder and the warm mixture of licorice are stacked on top of each other. The large pile of several meters high is brought to a room for conditioning.
For 36 hours the licorices are kept in a temperature of 65°C in the conditioning room. During the conditioning the licorices dry and harden. The temperature of 65°C is still to high, but the licorices dry already well. With a lower temperature the drying process goes to fast and the licorices may crack.
After conditioning the licorices are pulled out of the plates with corn starch powder. To attain this goal they are shaken on a sieve. The powder goes through the seave while the dull licorices remain on the sieve. The powder is sieved again and dried. After that it can be used again for the casting of new licorices.
The sticking corn starch powder is blown of by a blower. After blowing the licorices are cleansed of powder, but they have a dull color. These dull licorices are not wanted.
In order to give the licorices a glazing effect they are put in a drum in which also a brightener is put. This brightener can be a vegetable oil or beeswax. By turning the drum the brightener is divided equally. In the same way a layer of sugar or licorice powder can be put on the licorices. But first a humid layer of brightener should be put on. This makes sure that the powder layer does not fasten well enough or come loose.
The licorices are conditioned for the second time to harden further. The temperature in this conditioning room is set on 18°C. The licorices remain here for 1-2 days. After conditioning they are ready to be packed.
There are many possibilities for packing licorices. It is for example packed in boxes, bags and bulk. It is important that the packing is waterproof. The licorices may dry out when liquids diffuse the package. There are also cardboard boxes with licorices. The cardboard is coated with a plastic or aluminum layer to avoid liquid diffusion. Our company (Dutch licorice) using bags for packing.
Due to the high percentage of sugar and because of this a low aw, the licorices have micro-biologically an unlimited storage life. However, licorice can dry out etc. In a closed package the storage life of licorice is more than a year.