The real reason why some people hate licorice

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There are few things more gross than black licorice— at least in my personal opinion.

Sorry if that offends you, but chances are, you probably also hate the taste of the candy. It’s one of those things that so very few people actually like— though, weirdly, there are still a few people in this world who like the stuff.

It seems like the licorice camp you fall into is a preference you’re born with; in other words, it’s not a taste you can learn to like or to dislike. You either inherently like or dislike it.

“People either love it or hate it and, as far as I can tell, it’s not a learned like or dislike,” says Marcia Pelchat, an associate member of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, a nonprofit center that researches taste and smell. “I don’t know a specific gene that is associated with liking and disliking licorice. [But] it does seem to be something that people are born with.”

So what is it about the taste that makes so many people who are born despising the taste of black licorice— and only a select who few enjoy it?

One theory is that strong black licorice flavor with which you associate the candy comes from a natural sweetener in licorice root called glycyrrhizin, which tastes similar to an artificial sweetener called saccharin, which is found in Sweet’N Low.
“What this suggests to me is maybe liking and disliking licorice is related to liking and disliking saccharin,” Pelchat says.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that if you hate black licorice, you also hate Sweet’N Low, but the chances for that are pretty high. However, the saccharin taste may be a bit more prominent in black licorice, though it’s present in both foods.

So the people who enjoy the taste of licorice? They simply might not be bothered by the taste of saccharin, though more studies need to be done to confirm this theory.

Licorice collection

Another compound in licorice is anethole, which is what you might associate the smell of licorice with. Anethole is also in foods such as anise and fennel, which are other foods that you might still enjoy even if you dislike licorice. However, when comparing the smells of both, you might notice they have similar aromas.

“[Taste] seems to be built-in; it doesn’t require any learning, however, responses to smells seem to be learned,” Pelchat explains. This is why sometimes you can train yourself to like certain foods that you might not like initially, for instance, cilantro (another one so many people despise).

“There are lots and lots of genes involved in the perception of [flavor] and of aroma and we probably all have relatively unique sensory worlds. So that’s just something to keep in mind in talking about individual differences in preference.”

If you do like the taste of black licorice, good for you. The candy contains a number of anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiviral properties and has even been used to treat gastric ulcers and hepatitis B.

However, experts warn to eat black licorice in moderation. Too much of it can actually be kind of harmful.

To find out why the FDA warns against eating too much licorice, and who shouldn’t consume black licorice, check out the video below.

What’s your stance on black licorice? Do you love it or hate it?

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