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Licourice

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Liquorice grows in many parts of Europe and Asia, but it is abundant in Calabria – its yellow flowers spread across the sun-kissed Calabrian countryside like wildfire, attracting a host of bees and other wildlife. Liquorice loves the clay soils in this part of Italy, and because the ground is so mineral-rich, the plants are able to produce large amounts of glycyrrhizic acid. Where other liquorice growers around the world need to supplement the root with additives and sugar, Calabrian liquorice is pure and natural – packed full of distinctive flavour. Simply put, it’s the best liquorice in the world.

As for why Calabrian liquorice remains popular, it all comes back to purity. Because Calabrian liquorice contains high levels of glycyrrhizic acid, it has the purest flavour of any liquorice in the world. On top of that, it boasts remarkable health benefits that the locals swear by. Many of the medicinal uses that go back into antiquity can be traced back to the fact that liquorice is a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, and has antiviral properties too. Amarelli continues to make liquorice lozenges because people swear by them for treating coughs and sore throats. Supposedly some locals still chew on raw, unprocessed liquorice root and even use it to brush their teeth.

Alongside all the bootlaces and spezzatine, Amarelli also makes plenty of other liquorice-based confectionery. Liquorice and chocolate is a much-loved Calabrian delicacy, and you can buy bars that mix liquorice with both white and dark chocolate, as well as gianduja – a chocolate and hazelnut spread born many miles north in Turin. There are a variety of liquorice liqueurs – including a liquorice grappa that certainly packs a punch – and also beers, liquorice pasta, salt and bathroom products like shampoo and toothpaste.

Despite its quality, Liquirizia di Calabria is still only produced in relatively small quantities, and makes up a tiny percentage of world production. Eighty percent of liquorice sold in the local area is made in Calabria, but head outside the region and that number drops to just five percent. Of the 300,000 tonnes of liquorice root processed in Italy every year, just 7,000 tonnes of that are grown in Italy, which means a whopping 293,000 tonnes are imported from the likes of China, Pakistan and Tunisia. Our advice? Seek it out next time you visit the region and make sure you’re buying the real deal – if you think you don’t like liquorice, you probably just haven’t tried the real thing.