Monday, May 23, 2011

Salty Licorice

I have mentioned the lovely blog The Dutch Table before, where Nicole, a Limburg expat currently living in Idaho, cooks her way through the Dutch culinary repertoire. While I have yet to try any of her recipes, they seem clear and well-written, and are headed by plenty of useful information about the specific dish in question and Dutch culture in general, with some personal stories thrown in for good measure. I’m really glad I stumbled upon it, as it has proved to be a great resource for my own blog (as well as a pleasant read in an of itself).

Nicole’s latest post is actually on a subject I have also been meaning to address, and I hope she forgives me for posting so soon after her on the same topic! Rather than providing a recipe, this time Nicole writes about a beloved Dutch candy, zoute drop (usually shortened to just drop), or salty licorice. That’s right, salty. Unlike American-style licorice, in addition to an extract from the licorice plant, drop also contains ammonium chloride, or salmiak (this is also another name for the candy itself), giving it a very distinct, salty taste.

The Dutch are absolutely crazy about this stuff. It’s available in dozens of varieties, both hard (like lozenges) and soft (like wine gums, if you’re familiar with the British sweet, or like much chewier gummy candies), and in varying degrees of saltiness. Drop has its own section in grocery store candy aisles:

And every Kruidvat store (an all-purpose drug store, like CVS or Rite-Aid) has a section of bulk candy you can buy by weight, at least half of which is given over to licorice in all different shapes and sizes (diamonds, coins, animals, strings, etc.). The same is true in candy stores like Jammin and Pinky. They have different flavors, too; honingdrops (honey) are common, as are ones flavored with mint, ginger, fruit, etc:

They have all kinds of shapes, too, like these monkeys and kitties:

Cute, huh?

Now, as a self-proclaimed foodie I feel I should have a pretty wide palette everything, and indeed I am at least able to tolerate most foods (and will try almost anything once)*. Yet I have always disliked licorice; it is one of the few tastes I truly can’t stand. The funny thing is, I tried the half fruit-half licorice sweets here, and I actually kind of like them. 

Or at least, I don’t have the urge to spit them out into the nearest trash can, which is a distinct improvement over other black licorice I’ve had. Who knows, maybe I too will become a drop fanatic (though I kind of doubt it.)

*I think half the time when people say they don’t like a food, it’s either because they haven’t tried it prepared correctly, or because it is a new or strong flavor that is a shock to their system. When I come across a food I don’t like, therefore, rather than avoiding it, I try to sample good-quality versions of it as often as possible until the taste starts to grow on me. This has worked for olives, strong cheeses and white wine (mostly the sweeter kinds still). I am still working on dryer and red wines and other types of alcohol, like beer (I don’t think I’ll ever like hard liquor, but don’t feel a pressing need to force myself on that one.). I recommend anyone truly interested in food to give this method a try, it actually works pretty well and is a great way to expand your palette.

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