Ammoniated licorice is a real thing. Popular in places including the Middle East and Northern Europe, the taste of this licorice will remind you of bleach.

Think back to the last time you saw a half-eaten bag of jelly beans. What color jelly beans were last to be eaten? Probably the black licorice ones.

Licorice is not for everyone.

Growing up, I was all about the Switzer’s black licorice: soft, chewy and strangely (to a young palate) both sweet and savory. Checking the ingredients label on Switzer’s black licorice, you’ll see that in addition to extract of licorice root, it contains salt and anise seed oil.

But there are many more strange ingredients in licorice.

Years ago, I was perusing the candy section at Chicago’s historic Merz Apothecary in the Palmer House. I came across imported licorice that contained some very unusual ingredients. Like ammonia salts.

Ammoniated licorice is a real thing. Popular in places including the Middle East and Northern Europe, the taste of this licorice will remind you of bleach. At Merz Apothecary, I bought several packages of the stuff. It grew on me. One small black box simply had the word “Salmiakki” on the front. This candy, from Finland, contains salmiak salt (ammonium chloride), which provides an astringent, almost tannic, flavor that edges on bitterness with a pronounced saline tingle. For the hardcore enthusiast, some of the licorice at Merz Apothecary is available as “extra salty.”

On their site, Switzer explains “we have been making non-chocolate treats to our extremely high standards – standards established by Grandpa Switzer – from the very beginning.” One wonders if, in the early days, Grandpa Switzer, who came over from Germany, did not make his licorice candy in a way more in line with Northern European tastes, perhaps with a little ammonium salt.

Before Germany entered the European Union, some of the licorice produced in that country was labeled “Adult Liquorice – Not Children’s Liquorice.” This label was probably necessitated by one too many children recoiling from the “adult” tastes of ammoniated salts.

Lately, I’ve been enjoying Lakrids, a Danish chocolate-covered licorice that seems well-suited to the North American audience. The creator of Lakrids, Johan Bulow, flavors the licorice with exotic ingredients like habanero, which like chocolate is an indigenous product of the Americas. The chocolate on Lakrids, however, is not very sweet, so it functions as a platform for sweet and savory flavors. The light chocolatey flavor comes through yet doesn’t overwhelm the slightly bitter, salty licorice. This hand-crafted licorice candy is sold online and at high-end retail outlets in places like Dubai and New York. You will probably like it more than ammoniated licorice.

National Licorice Day is celebrated on April 12. To recognize the day, you can get fancy with some Lakrids or go exotic with a licorice from Merz Apothecary. It’s probably not appropriate, however, to celebrate the day with Twizzlers or Vines, which contain no licorice at all. If you have truly “adult tastes,” consider sampling one of the many varieties of licorice with ammonia salts. Please do take that as a dare.

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...