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Licorice for Seasoning and Healing

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Food as Herbs, Health, and Medicine

Spring Volume: 2006 Issue: 13(1) page(s): 20, 21, and 34

The dried root of Glycyrrhiza uralensis, Glycyrrhiza inflate, and Glycyrrhiza glabra are distinctive bittersweet plant parts whose flavor has been known and used in China for many many generations. Spelled licorice or liquorice in Chinese dictionaries, it is used in liquors, teas, candies, bakery products, in herbals and also in cooking.

The taste of this root, more than its leaves, is similar to that of star anise. However, it is not related to it nor even to anise seed. Anise seed is a relative of parsley while star anise is the fruit of an evergreen tree. All three contain essential oils of similar chemical composition. Actually, licorice is a perennial member of the bean family indigenous to northern China. Capable of soothing side-effects in Chinese medicines, it is used in and with them, as an emollient, as a sweetener, and for its very specific taste.

This plant is sweet and considered neutral in the yin/yang dichotomy. It is thought valuable and Chinese traditional medical practitioners say that it counteracts various poisons but is dangerous when used in large quantities. The only other negative about licorice we located was found in the Soup of the Qan. It says there, when taking licorice do not eat seaweed and a kind of Brassica chinensis they call sung cai.

The Soup of the Qan, translated by Paul Buell and Eugene Anderson, was originally written in the Mongol Era. It includes recipes recorded in those times which promise to rid the body of improper qi. It says licorice warms and invigorates the spleen and stomach before a meal, and promotes digestion after one. One licorice recipe intended for an immortal, called 'Immortals Tsangshu Puree,' is said to ward off pestilence and eliminate cold-evil.

Besides items already mentioned, licorice is used to relieve coughs, get rid of excess phlegm, rid the body of spasms and pain, clear away heat, counteract toxicities, moderates other drugs, and help to heal sores and ulcers. On the negative side, do not to take it if vomiting. In both medicinals and foods, licorice is appreciated for its sweet flavor and aroma, and for the essential oil obtained by crushing its roots.

The Chinese use licorice as a carminative, an expectorant, and an antiseptic, and to flavor their foods. They like its effects in cooking because of what they refer to as its three p’s. These are, that it makes foods a mite piquant, and pungent, and peppery.

LICORICE TEA, which many Chinese like, they make using one teaspoon of the ground root in cold water. They bring this to the boil, steep it for ten minutes, then strain and drink this decoction many times in a day.

Licorice root is used in powder and liquid form and often found in five-spice powder. It is used in soups and stews and many red-cooked dishes. The Chinese call it gan cao, and love to tout its use to relieve intoxication. Drinkers and non-drinkers alike use it to relieve tensions. One common recipe for that uses ten grams of licorice powder mixed with twice the weight of whole wheat kernels, and five Chinese dates. These are made into a soup. Consumers say this soup and other uses of licorice can calm hysterical folk and reduce anxiety and stress in everyone.

LICORICE SOUP in another recipe with many more uses, is to take one hundred fifty grams of processed dry licorice with half that amount of dry ginger. Put both in a pot, generously cover with water, and boil until half the water is evaporated. Cool somewhat, then drink a cup. Do so twice each day for its calming effects, to cure abscessed lungs, and to ease bronchial conditions without coughs. What is processed licorice? It is the root, powdered or whole and sliced, then cooked with honey.

CHEWING THE ROOT, also called a licorice stick, is like taking a mild laxative. Some traditional medical practitioners recommend doing so to reduce cholesterol. However, they add that if a person has high blood pressure, a rapid heart beat, or is on particular medications, then avoid chewing or eating any licorice.

Some Asiapac books illustrate classic Chinese tales in comic form. One tells the story of an old village doctor, away visiting patients while a steady stream of others arrive at his door; and as their numbers increase, his wife becomes anxious. She finds some licorice root, starts a fire, cooks the roots with water and tells the waiting crowd, 'these herbs were left by the doctor, and can cure anything. Take them home and brew them.' A number of patients do, and when the doc returns some days later, a few return to pay for their cure. He queries then examines them, and finds their stomach ailments cured, likewise their coughs, sore throats, etc. Convinced of its effectiveness, he treats others with 'sweet grass,' as this herb is sometimes called.

The main component of licorice, glycyrrhizen, stimulates the adrenal gland and indirectly regulates metabolism. Some tout it to reduce prostate enlargement, others use it to prevent hair loss. Ladies like to mix licorice with orange peel, sandalwood, and cardamon and put it in their cakes. Still others simply make a decoction and use it to reduce their dry thirst or to help their body pass fluids.

In China, Taiwan, and Hawaii, licorice is mixed with jujube, the Chinese date, and cooked with the lei plum. As such, it is eaten as candy or cooked in many sweet dishes. In Hawaii, these are sold in crack seed stores, and were discussed in an article by Rachel Laudan in Flavor and Fortune’s Volume 2(2) on pages 5, 16, and 18. That issue is out of print but available on this magazine’s website at: www.flavorandfortune.com Go there to read about these snack foods often tasting of licorice.
Candied Dates
2 pounds fresh or dried Chinese dates
1 Tablespoon coarse salt
1 and 1/2 pounds Chinese brown slab sugar, crushed
1 perilla leaf
3 slices licorice root
1. Rinse dates, soak for one hour in cool water, then drain.
2. Add salt to the jujubes, mix well, then soak them again in six quarts of room-temperature water for twenty-four to thirty-six hours. Drain and rinse under cold running water for five minutes. Drain well.
3. Prepare a two quart or larger sterilized jar. Put in a layer of the jujubes, cover with a layer of sugar, another layer of the jujubes, etc. alternating until all are in the jar. Top with the perilla leaf. Cover with several pieces of cheesecloth held in place with a rubber band. Set aside in a cool dark place for two months.
4. Discard the leaf, and set the jujubes out on a wire rack to air dry, turning once or twice. This can take a day or two. Then serve.
Licorice-sweetened Pork Shanks
2 pork shanks, each cut into four pieces
2 scallions, each tied in a knot
2 slices fresh ginger
2 Tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 cup vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine
2 whole star anise
2 slices licorice root
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup flour or water chestnut flour
1 egg
2 lettuce leaves
1. Rinse pork shanks, then put into a large pot of boiling water. Remove and drain after two minutes.
2. Bring eight cups of water to the boil, add pork shanks, scallions, and ginger slices, reduce heat and simmer for half an hour. Drain well.
3. Put shanks in a bowl, cover with soy sauce, mix well, and let sit for ten minutes. Then drain.
4. Heat oil, then deep fry half the pork shanks until golden, remove and fry the remaining half. Drain on paper towels. Reserve the oil for later use. 5. Put shanks and half cup of water in a steam-proof bowl. Add the rice wine, star anise, licorice root, and the sugar. Steam this mixture for one hour or until the shanks are soft, then drain them and discard the solids. Remove the bones, and tear the meat from each shank into several large pieces. Keep the liquid.
6. Mix the flour and the egg, beat well, then coat half the shank pieces and fry them in the reserved oil until golden. Draining on paper towels.. Batter the second half and fry them, as well. Put all pork shank meat on a serving plate lined with the lettuce leaves, reheat the reserved sauce and pour over the meat, and serve.
Braised Beef Tendons
2 pounds beef tendons, cut into two inch pieces
1 Tablespoon black sesame oil
3 scallions, cut into two-inch pieces
2 slices ginger root, minced
3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and minced
2 star anise
3 slices licorice root
3 fresh red chili peppers, cut in half and seeded
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons rice wine
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1. Blanch beef tendon pieces twice, each time for one minute, and in rapidly boiling water. Drain well.
2. Heat wok, add oil, and when hot then stir-fry scallions, ginger, and garlic for half minute; do not let them burn. Add all ingredients, cover with boiling water, then simmer for two and a half hours.
3. Remove the tendons to a pre-heated serving bowl, and then boil remaining liquid until less than half cup remains, pour this over the tendons, and serve.
Licorice-flavored Mixed Meats
1 conpoy, also known as dried scallop, soaked in warm water for two hours
2 Tablespoons salted fish, soaked for half hour
1 pound coarsely chopped or coarsely ground pork
1/2 to 1 teaspoon licorice powder
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 Tablespoon mushroom soy sauce
1 Tablespoon oyster sauce
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon five-spice powder
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1. Drain and shred scallop, then chop coarsely; and do likewise for the salted fish.
2. Mix pork, chopped scallop. Drain, then chop the salted fish and stir several times in one direction.
3. Then add licorice powder, sugar, soy and oyster sauces, cornstarch, rice wine, sesame oil, pepper, and five-spice powder, and continue to stir in one direction for one minute or until all is well mixed and holding together. Then shape into ten hamburger-shaped patties and dust with cornstarch.
4. Heat wok or fry pan and add the oil. Fry half the patties on medium heat on one side than the other, then drain and set on warm plate while frying the second batch. Then serve.
Spareribs, Licorice, Mo-er, and More
1 pound spareribs, separated in groups of two-bones
3 Tablespoons tiger lily buds, soaked for fifteen minutes
2 Tablespoons cloud-ear mushrooms, soaked for twenty minutes
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 onions, cut top to bottom in one-inch wedges
1/4 cup Chinese rice wine
1/2 cup dark or mushroom soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon crushed Sichuan pepper
3 whole cloves garlic, smashed with side of a cleaver
3 slices licorice root
1. Blanch spare ribs in boiling water for two minutes, drain, and discard the water.
2. Drain, then knot every two tiger lily buds together. Then drain cloud ear mushrooms and cut larger ones into two-inch pieces.
3. Heat oil in a heavy pot and fry onions until soft and beginning to brown. Remove half of them and set aside.
4. Put spare ribs in the pot on top of the cooked onions. Add tiger lily buds, cloud-ear mushrooms, rice wine, soy sauce, Sichuan pepper, garlic cloves, licorice root slices, and half cup of boiling water. Simmer for two hours. Then remove the pieces of licorice root and add the remaining onions. Simmer an additional half hour, then serve.

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