The New Black

For decades, Scandinavia has been a world leader in the export of trend-setting luxury items: from designer chairs and clean energy solutions to innovative urban planning and leggy blonde supermodels. And in recent years, with the ascent of Danish wunderkind René Redzepi and his Michelin-starred restaurant Noma, Nordic food has also moved to the forefront of innovation. While it is often the genre-bending culinary creations of ‘New Nordic’ that garner the most attention (see Noma’s ‘live fjord shrimp’ or ‘crispy deer lichen’), there is another innovative though less sensational food that Scandinavian chefs are helping to reintroduce to the world at large: liquorice.

Historically popular in the warm regions where it grows successfully, such as southern Europe, North Africa, and throughout the Middle East, liquorice root has long been used in culinary, beverage, pharmaceutical, and tobacco applications for its natural sweetness and nutritional qualities. Recent scientific studies out of China and the UK are even showing that soils damaged by natural or man-made causes can actually be revitalized by the introduction of liquorice root plants (Glycyrrhiza glabra); over a period of time, the liquorice plants (which are technically a weed) will reintroduce valuable nutrients and minerals that the soil needs to support agricultural production. Although some varieties of liquorice root are naturally thirty times sweeter than sugar (by volume) and possess a range of flavors far more complex, many of the ‘liquorice’ products that were mass produced in the twentieth century, especially in the United States, were tar-like black candies that closely resembled deer droppings. By and large these tough, artificially flavored black products had little to do with the liquorice root itself.