What is liquorice?

Liquorice is the common name given to a flowering plant (Glycyrrhiza glabra) that grows in parts of Asia and Europe. The root of the liquorice plant is the source of a sweet, aromatic compound called glycyrrhizin which is used as a flavouring in confectionery and drinks, the root itself may also be used as a dietary supplement.


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Nutritional profile

A small serving (42g) of black liquorice provides:

140 Kcal/586KJ

1.0g Protein

1.0g Fat

33.0g Carbohydrate

6.0g Sugar

1.0g Fibre

Single bundle of cut and dry licorice root

Is liquorice a healthy choice?

Liquorice root is promoted as a health aid for digestive issues including heartburn and peptic ulcers, menopausal symptoms including promoting bone health, coughs, sore throats as well as viral infections. Although, it should be noted there is no evidence supporting its use with SARS-CoV-2.

Many of these health benefits are thanks to the active compounds in the root, which are glycyrrhizic acid and glycyrrhetic acid. It's these compounds that are responsible for the root’s antioxidant, anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties and explains why liquorice is used in a diverse range of products from topical skin products to supplements, and from confectionery to flavoured drinks.

One mechanism responsible for the health implications of liquorice relates, in part, to its ability to inhibit an enzyme that inactivates the stress hormone, cortisol. This mode of action can be helpful for those with adrenal fatigue, because it helps the body regulate cortisol and sustain normal adrenal function. However, in a similar fashion this same mode of action may lead to heightened cortisol levels, disruption to electrolyte balance and the re-absorption of salt and fluids, and as a result elevate blood pressure, promote oedema (excess tissue fluids) and more.

Glycyrrhizin is responsible for many of the side effects of liquorice and for this reason it is often removed from dietary supplements. Such products are referred to as de-glycyrrhizinated liquorice (DGL) and are often the product of choice for symptoms of digestive issues, like heartburn.

Is liquorice safe for everyone?

For most of us, the liquorice found in food is generally considered safe to eat and safe when consumed as a medicine for short periods of time. However, when consumed in large amounts, over an extended period, it can cause potassium levels in the body to fall and impact blood pressure. Some people may be particularly sensitive to these effects, this includes those with heart disease, kidney disease and hypertension (high blood pressure).

Furthermore, even black liquorice, enjoyed as a confectionery, may interact with certain medications as well as other herbs and supplements. These medications include those used for managing blood pressure, including diuretics and warfarin, as well as hormone replacement therapy.

For this reason, if you are over 40, have a history of heart disease, high blood pressure or both, and you eat more than 57g of black liquorice a day, or supplement with liquorice, then you should be aware that this may lead to health problems, including an increase in blood pressure and potentially an irregular heart beat (arrhythmia). This is because glycyrrhizin in liquorice has a number of effects on the body including lowering potassium levels which disrupts muscle function and electrolyte balance.

Therefore, if you fall into this group, and you are on prescribed medication or supplement with other herbs, check with your GP or pharmacist before adding liquorice to your regime.

Evidence suggests that during pregnancy liquorice is safe to eat but you should avoid liquorice root. Similarly, if you have a hormone-sensitive health issue you should be aware that liquorice may have an oestrogenic effect in the body which may aggravate your condition.

Last thoughts on liquorice…

If you’re a fan of liquorice confectionery it’s worth remembering that not all ‘liquorice’ is made with the real liquorice extract, some sweets are flavoured with aniseed or other similar flavourings. This means if you enjoy liquorice, but fall into one of the aforementioned groups, you can still enjoy a similar tasting sweet. If a product contains liquorice it should be listed on the label under ingredients as liquorice extract or glycyrrhizic acid.

Do you enjoy liquorice confectionery or have you used liquorice for health reasons? Share your experiences in the comments below….

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This article was written by Registered Nutritionist Kerry Torrens on 29 June 2022.

Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a Registered Nutritionist with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food. Find her on Instagram at @kerry_torrens_nutrition_


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