From Why is Iceland So Obsessed With Licorice? by Linni Kral
“Flowers and bees couldn’t flourish, so neither could honey. Trading ships had difficulty making it ashore in the icy Atlantic, so imports were unreliable. Licorice, on the other hand, did not need to flower to be viable—the edible portion is the root, which contains a compound 30–50 times sweeter than sucrose. In lieu of other sugar, this flavor began to predominate in the chilly climes of northern Europe, and Icelanders, too, came to rely on its strong flavor to satisfy their cravings.
But it also served functions beyond sugar fix. Considered a highly effective mucokinetic (a drug that clears mucus from the airways), licorice has been relied on by Icelandic pharmacists for centuries to combat the respiratory ailments frequently afflicting inhabitants of the subarctic, perpetually damp island. The pharmacists added it to their bespoke cough syrups and lozenges and served them to everyone from sick children to fishermen—a practice that lasted well into the 20th century, according to Icelandic food journalist Ragnar Egilsson.”
“The effects of the climate on public health (and the subsequent licorice cures) do not stop there. For centuries, local produce was practically nonexistent and as a result, the bowels of the Icelandic people were in need of some help. Luckily for them, licorice root doesn’t just thin nasal fluids. The plant, found in modern-day aperient teas, is known for its laxative properties, a trait that surely comes in handy in a country where fermented shark carcass and lamb hot dogs are the cuisine de rigueur.”
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