I was the weird kid who ate the black, licorice-flavored jelly beans at Easter that most kids set aside. I’m the weird adult, like my friend Rosemary Jones, who enjoys Good ‘n Plenty.
Licorice (or Liquorice, for some), is somewhat of an acquired taste. True licorice is derived from the root of a legume and is not related to star anise, despite the similarity of flavor. (So similar, in fact, that star anise is often used to supplement the flavor of licorice candies.) The root itself is quite popular in parts of Spain and Italy where it’s sometimes chewed raw as a breath freshener. In Scandinavian countries, it’s sold as a salted confection. It’s even brewed into a liquor in some places (which even I have a hard time drinking, to be honest).
It’s been around for a while. Long enough that it’s used for medicinal purposes in some cultures. Long enough that Alexander the Great gave liquorice root to his troops because it made them less thirsty.
Despite it’s longevity, it just isn’t a popular flavor.
But there are other flavors…well, until recently ONE other commonly known flavor, and that’s red licorice.
And then there’s the Hawaiian Licorice Company.
I was fortunate to have stumbled upon their Kickstarter when they were getting up and running. The prospect of gourmet, all natural licorice was appealing enough. But they were doing something magical. They were adding flavors I’ve never seen in licorice form before. I’m sure I shouted something along the lines of “Shut up and take my money!” as I pledged for a stack of flavor.
Flash forward several months and there I was, unboxing approximately three pounds of delightful, brightly packaged, gourmet licorice in such flavors as Big Island Orange, Sunshine Pineapple, Garden Isle Mango, Aloha Cherry, and of course, the classic Black Tropical Storm.
Let the party begin!
Each pack has what appear to be long ropes cut up into bite-sized pieces then stacked in rows for ease of packing and consuming. The colors are extraordinary on the fruit flavored varieties. Vibrant, almost alien in their bright hues. As for texture, they’re smooth and softly chewy, not as tough as Red Vines or Twizzlers, but not quite as soft as the Panda brand natural licorice (a childhood favorite). You’re not going to get the Hawaiian licorice stuck in your teeth like other chewier snacks, so that’s a bonus.
But I know what you’re thinking. How do they taste?
The pineapple was a huge hit, delivering amazingly true and fresh pineapple flavor. So much so that friends who don’t like licorice at all loved this particular flavor. It’s rare to have a pineapple candy. It’s rarer still to have it taste so completely like real pineapple. This was simply amazing.
The same could be said for the mango, which is not a candy flavor you’re going to see outside of lame, chemical attempts at “tropical” fruit chews. I had recently made a mango-chipotle BBQ chicken, so I was well acquainted to real mango flavor, and I felt that this delivered well above expectations.
The orange was…well, you couldn’t deny that it was orange. It didn’t have the sweetness of other orange candies. In fact, all of the Hawaiian Licorice Company flavors did a great job of not being too sweet, which was a nice surprise. The sugars were very nicely balanced. The sole hesitation on the orange is that I got a bit of astringent orange peel flavor that was on the edge of overwhelming the fruit tones. Still incredibly tasty, but perhaps in smaller doses than the mango or pineapple which both vanished almost as soon as they were opened.
Then we get to the cherry, and I expect this to be a divisive flavor for some people. Cherries have a range of flavor. These did not have the cloying sweetness that one expects from most cherry flavored candy. Nor did it deliver the super tartness of sour cherry, though it was closer to that side of the spectrum. It was undeniably cherry, and amazingly so. But it might throw people to have a candy that tastes so much like the real fruit without playing to one of the two extremes they’re used to from cherry candy.
Then we get to the real deal. A licorice company needs to be able to deliver a true, black licorice. So this was the real test: the Black Tropical Storm. Again, color, texture: all of it pitch perfect. And the flavor: incredible without being overdone. This is not the Altoids of licorice. It is undeniably black licorice, but there was restraint used, and it’s not overpowering. I didn’t find it quite as strong as Panda licorice (which has been my standard against which all others are measured), but that’s a good thing. It brings a true licorice flavor with a great chewing density.
I’m delighted that these guys got their funding and are making candy. Honestly, I’m a bit tired of all the places making gourmet chocolate bars or shitty novelty candy. Natural, uniquely flavored licorice is a brilliant niche, and I’m happy that someone is doing it.
I highly recommend picking up a pack or two–especially the pineapple or mango if you’re not into the real deal. Or mix it up and get a couple of packs as a sample of something new.
It’s a hell of a lot cheaper than a trip to Hawaii. But I’d venture your mouth won’t know the difference.