Liquorice is a perennial herbaceous plant belonging to the legume family.
It belongs to the botanical genus Glycyrrhiza, which means root (rhiza) sweet (glykis).
Among the main species, the most valuable is undoubtedly the Glycyrrhiza Glabra, distinguishable by the legume and the hairless, hairless leaves.
Furthermore, its typicality is given by the natural sweetness, which makes it pleasant on the palate.
And it is precisely the Glycyrrhiza Glabra that is most widespread in Calabria, where it is known with the name of Cordara due to the appearance of its root system which recalls a messy interweaving of ropes.
The plant looks like a shrub with a woody base with a bushy habit and can reach up to one and a half meters in height. The leaves are compound, paripinnate, formed by a number that varies from four to seven elliptical leaflets with a very short petiole, glabrous and slightly slimy in the lower part.
The purple-fuchsia-pale blue flower has a corolla made up of five petals and is usually born between May and June.
The fruit is a legume and is not used for commercial purposes, as are all the rest of the aerial part of the plant.
The root system is provided with tap roots that penetrate the ground vertically and with long stolons, or lateral branches, which are generated by some gems placed at the base of the plant and spread over the surface reaching even three meters and more in length . The stolons are in turn equipped with bud nodes from which roots and leaves sprout which will become new seedlings.
Only the root is the part of the plant that is used commercially, both to be consumed as it is and dried, and to obtain liquorice extract and all its derivatives.
Liquorice root has been used since ancient times as a medicinal remedy for its digestive and antioxidant properties.
In the Chinese empire, in the first millennium BC, an authoritative medical tradition established
itself in which liquorice assumed central importance.
In the same period also in Mesopotamia and in ancient Egypt we find traces of the use of liquorice in the medical and culinary fields. These traditions are later transferred to Greece and Rome.
The Roman botanical and medical treatises already testify from the 2nd/3rd century BC a flourishing trade in roots, especially Greek, and different ways of using the product.
This knowledge was then handed down to the Byzantine and Islamic world.
In the Middle Ages it was introduced in Europe and began to be cultivated in France, Spain and Italy.
In any case, for completeness of information, some scholars believe that the presence of liquorice as a crop in Calabria must be traced back to at least 2,500 years ago, when the Greek colonizers took possession of it.
This belief finds its good deduction from the fact that Greek doctors have been using liquorice root for some time as an important therapeutic aid. Therefore, once they have found their place in the area, they themselves have given life to a real cultivation of the plant, which is so useful to them on
site, rather than continuing to get supplies through the not easy to find loads from their mother country.
This thesis also finds its validity in the confirmation, in this objective case, of the scientific and analytical evidence that places Greek liquorice as the closest to our root.
It goes without saying that, after well over two millennia, the Calabrian root, closely linked to the environmental characteristics of the region, has created its own ecotype.
Later, most likely in Germany, between the 1400s and 1500s, the unitary and global history of liquorice begins and coincides with the standardization of a new way of working with the root, i.e. with the production of a solid extract by boiling in root water and the subsequent concentration of the juice through the slow evaporation of the liquid part.
Starting from the 19th century, liquorice extract began to be used more and more as an ingredient for sweets and candies. From the following century, this semi-finished product continues to gain popularity all over the world, becoming a common ingredient in many food and pharmaceutical products and today as an ingredient in numerous dishes, especially in haute cuisine.
The collection and the extract
The harvesting of the liquorice root takes place above all in the spring/summer period and in the autumn period.
Grubbing up is done using a tractor equipped with a single share plow, capable of opening furrows with a maximum depth of 60cm, as stated in the production regulations.
With the root, which has been brought to the surface from the furrows produced by the plough, it is harvested manually. Bundles are then prepared which, loaded onto suitable means, are delivered to the transformation or initial processing companies.
Arrived here, the root is defibrated through special mills and then fined with water. At this point, the water/root compound is brought to the boil, then pressed, to allow the separation of the juice from the pomace.
The next phase consists in the gradual and constant reduction of the excess water, through a phase called concentration, until a very dense paste is obtained from which, through the passage in an extruder, various pieces of extract are obtained, usually called Spezzate, Spezzatine , Tronchetti, Stecche, etc., then destined for drying in special ovens and subsequently for packaging and sale.
Liquorice has many beneficial and health properties.
Among the most important, we cannot fail to mention the anti-inflammatory, healing, laxative, fluidifying, digestive, thirst-quenching, whitening and anorectic.
So much so that there are countless works published in prestigious scientific journals and which deal with liquorice as a phytocomplex, also used in interesting preclinical and clinical conditions.
Of liquorice, as mentioned, both the juice of the fresh or dried roots and the extract are edible.
And it is in both, based on the different use made of them, that the nutraceutical properties can be found.
As an anti-inflammatory and healing remedy in gastric and duodenal ulcers, it is sufficient to dissolve 1-2 tablets of the extract in the mouth two or three times a day, for a period between thirty and sixty days or chew a stick of root divided daily in three moments during the day.
Those who prefer herbal tea can boil and leave to infuse in a cup, for about 15 minutes, 35 g of liquorice root, 35 g of mint leaves and 30 g of chamomile in bloom. To have the indicated effects, two cups a day should be drunk.
For the laxative function, it is sufficient to place the liquorice root, powdered or chopped, in a similar decoction, mixed in equal parts with mallow leaves and marshmallow root.
As a cough reliever, a decoction can be prepared with 50 g of marshmallow root and 50 g of liquorice root per cup.
To take advantage of the thirst-quenching properties of liquorice, however, just cut the sticks into very small pieces and grind it with the help of a food processor; then place the root powder to infuse in a jug of boiling water for about 10-15 minutes, then filter it and place the jug in the fridge to use the drink throughout the day.
Its strong whitening power is also very interesting. To experience it, it will be enough to nibble on a stick of root, and then rub the fibrous part of the root itself on the teeth, immediately after having washed them. You can repeat the action a couple of times a day to notice the result in a few days.
Numerous beauty creams also contain liquorice extract, precisely to help skin depigmentation and whiten age spots.
In any case, it should be remembered that, even if Calabrian liquorice contains a very low glycyrrhizin content, excessive consumption must be avoided in case of hypertension and that, since it can cause water retention, its use during pregnancy is not recommended.
The Liquorice of Calabria PDO
The incomparable nature of Liquirizia di Calabria PDO is contained in its chemical composition and is conferred by its particular organoleptic properties, which make it a unique product in terms of taste and characteristics. These peculiarities are a “gift” for which Calabrian liquorice must thank:
– the geomorphological configuration of the region (the presence of the sea one step away from the mountains);
– the typical climatic conditions(mild winters and dry, hot summers);
– the suitability of the soil that accepted it (for example an excellent silicon content and its neutral pH).
Combining all these aspects present only in our region, we obtain a product with a decidedly more pleasant taste than any other liquorice in the world, given by the very scarce presence of bitter
substances and by the typicality of the aromatic components; but in addition to the taste, what characterizes the Calabrian raw material is the special balance of the substances it contains.
Among the many, the singularity that stands out above all is that linked to the extremely low content of Glycyrrhizin (the substance that affects blood pressure): with an average value in the root of 1.5% in the root and 3% in the extract , much lower percentages than those of liquorices of other origins (for example Turkish, Iranian, Mongolian or Chinese which can even reach average values of 10% and sometimes even more), no small piece of information for the many hypertensive consumers who love taste a liquorice during the day.
The “Liquirizia di Calabria PDO” is born in large areas of the provinces of the region and in territories up to 600 meters above sea level.
It is a weed that often arises spontaneously, even in land already occupied by other crops. It prefers clayey and mixed soils and its harvest usually takes place in three or four year cycles, when the root reaches an excellent condition also for industrial use.