Friday, April 4, 2008

The Many Tastes of Licorice

Offer someone licorice and odds are they will expect a black soft chewy candy that taste, well like licorice. But "licorice candy" can also be strawberry, cherry and chocolate flavor. The majority of licorice candy produced in America is flavored with anise, which taste like licorice. Now if you are in the produce section looking for something unusual to serve for a special dinner you may be tempted to try something labeled anise, which is actually fennel. Is your head spinning? Let's take a closer look at licorice and licorice flavor.
Licorice is an herb, Glycyrrhiza glabra, which is processed and sold primary as an extract. Anise is a spice, Pimpinella anisum, and is harvested for its seeds. Star Anise is a spice, Illicium verum, that is sold and used dried. And Fennel is an herb, Foeniculum vulgare, which can be found in the produce section in most grocery stores and is eaten raw or cooked. Licorice root contains glycyrrhizic acid, the plants major component, which is extremely sweet. Anise, star anise and fennel contain the chemical anethole, which mirrors true licorice flavor. All four have been used to treat a variety of lung disorders.

With so much to choose from no wonder April 12 in National Licorice Day. I checked, mail will be delivered that day and banks will be open. I will celebrate with a bag of black licorice candy. If you feel like exploring give fennel a try, besides it's in season.

Star Anise Rice Pudding
This sweet and spicy rice pudding is the grown-up comfort food.

2 cups water
1 cup arborio rice
1 13.5 oz can coconut milk
1 teaspoon of five-star powder (see note)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup shredded sweeten coconut
1 cup milk

Place water and rice in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil for ten minutes. Add coconut milk and spices and simmer for 15 - 20 minutes or until thick and creamy. remove from heat. Stir in brown sugar, coconut and milk. Cool in refrigerator for 2 hours. Additional milk can be added if too thick.

Yield: 4 cups

Five-Star Powder
This traditional Chinese spice can be purchased in many grocery stores. If you can not find it you can make your own. It has an unique complex flavor - sweet, bitter, sour, pungent and salty.

2 star anise, pods and seeds
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon whole cloves

Combine all ingredients and ground in a coffee mill.

Yield: 2 tablespoons

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