Black licorice has been used for years as either a tasty snack or for medicinal purposes, often in the form of tea. However, black licorice tends to be one of those things that you either love or hate. 

Licorice contains anethole, which is aromatic and has a strong smell that people often associate with NyQuil. NBC News suggests that the common dislike for licorice is what psychologists refer to as “operant conditioning” or a type of learned behaviour. Through this, the news outlet argues that our learned sense of smell is stronger than learned taste. This concept of learning and reinforcing associations may explain why so many people have a strong dislike for this NyQuil-smelling snack.

Early scientific research also indicates that despite the acquired taste of black licorice, the candy has great health benefits. Studies found that black licorice aids stomach issues, particularly inflammation and acid reflux. The candy also helps the digestive system, relieves indigestion symptoms, and eases chronic acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD).

Black licorice may also be advantageous to those who suffer from hair loss. This is because licorice has mollifying properties, which reduces anxiety or anger. As a result, the candy can open up pores in the scalp and reduce redness and irritation. Additionally, black licorice relieves joint pain as its anti-inflammatory properties serve as the body’s natural corticosteroids, which assists the body’s release of cortisol, suppresses the immune system, and reduces pain.

Although the treat has many health benefits, moderation is key as overeating black licorice can have severe consequences. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) informs the public that this Halloween season, candy-lovers should avoid eating large quantities of licorice at one time as it may cause arrhythmia, among other heart complications. 

According to The New York Times, a fifty-four-year-old construction worker died in September 2020 after eating one to two bags of licorice every day for three weeks. Doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital stated that the man’s overindulgence in the candy created imbalances in essential nutrients and skyrocketed his blood pressure. The autopsy also found that the man had dangerously low potassium levels, which contributed to his sudden cardiac arrest.

Black licorice also contains glycyrrhizin, a sweetener derived from licorice root. However, if licorice is consumed in large quantities, glycyrrhizin can lead to extremely low potassium levels in the body. Furthermore, glycyrrhizin causes electrolyte imbalances, heightened blood pressure, lethargy, and swelling.

If you enjoy black licorice and its health benefits, be sure to keep portion sizes low this Halloween, and remember these recommendations by the FDA: 

  • Licorice may negatively react to some drugs, such as aspirin and oral contraceptives. As such, consult your doctor if you experience any symptoms while taking these medications.
  • Contact your physician immediately if you experience muscle weakness or irregular heart rhythm after consuming black licorice

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