Licorice can raise blood pressure because of the glycyrrhizic acid it contains. Therefore, one should not consume too much of it. A new study now shows that five grams of the candy often contain significantly more of this acid than consumers suspect.
Black, sticky and bittersweet, liquorice is a popular confection that is now used in many products such as candies, lozenges, chocolate products and teas. The pharmaceutical industry also uses the extract from the liquorice root to treat stomach problems and colds, for example in the form of teas and cough syrups.
However, it has long been known that the glycyrrhizic acid (GA) contained in liquorice has a negative effect on health. Larger amounts of it interfere with the mineral metabolism and lead to sodium accumulations and potassium losses. This can lead to
This can be life-threatening, especially for people who already suffer from high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, as well as for pregnant women. For this reason, the limit for glycyrrhizic acid in the European Union is 100 milligrams per day.
According to the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), 200 milligrams of glycyrrhizic acid already lead to the health problems mentioned. This corresponds to 100 grams of liquorice.
The BfR therefore advises not to take in more than 100 milligrams of glycyrrhizin per day. This in turn corresponds to a quantity of
consumers should not exceed.
However, a Danish study has now examined over 200 liquorice products and found that they contain glycyrrhizic acid in such high quantities that limit values are exceeded even with small amounts of liquorice. These were confectionery such as candies, pure liquorice and liquorice covered with chocolate, as well as ice cream and teas containing liquorice. They came from local shops, supermarkets and importers. It is not known exactly which products are involved.
“We were surprised that in many products you don’t have to eat more than four to five grams of liquorice to get enough glycyrrhizic acid to exceed the EU limit,” said Nicolai Zederkopff Ballin, a chemist at the Danish Food Safety Authority and first author of the Study. In the case of liquorice tea, 83 milliliters were enough to exceed the limit.
In the EU, according to the Food Information Ordinance (LMIV), there is a labeling obligation for liquorice products that contain at least 400 milligrams of glycyrrhizic acid per 100 grams. These products must be labeled “Contains licorice – people suffering from high blood pressure should avoid excessive consumption”.
However, the Danish study authors find this labeling too vague. Because consumers have “no chance of determining the actual glycyrrhizic acid content in their preferred liquorice products”.
This can also vary significantly from country to country, the study goes on to say. The authors therefore demand that other countries also carry out studies on liquorice products and contribute to more education in this regard. “We question whether consumers in general are well informed about the potential adverse health effects of licorice consumption,” the authors said.
According to the Federal Association of the Confectionery Industry in Germany, the content of commercially available liquorice in this country is mainly below 100 milligrams per 100 grams of the finished product. However, if the glycyrrhizic acid content is over 200 milligrams, the product must be labeled as “strong licorice”.
As the Bavarian State Office for Health and Food Safety (LGL) informed Focus online, the LGL randomly examined 41 confectionery samples from 2020 to 2022 for their glycyrrhizin content. The median of all samples examined was 80.5 milligrams per 100 grams, i.e. below the limit value, but a liquorice product was still complained about due to labeling deficiencies in terms of the description, the nutritional value table or the lack of quantitative information on the liquorice extract, according to Focus online .
Since the investigations are only small samples, consumers must assume that we also sell liquorice products that contain higher amounts of glycyrrhizin. Therefore, consumers, especially those with high blood pressure, should generally exercise caution when consuming licorice and licorice products.
Salty liquorice also contains another problematic ingredient that makes it taste salty and hot: ammonium chloride, also known as sal ammoniac. According to the BfR, ammonium chloride in higher doses leads to acidification of the blood (metabolic acidosis) and to an impairment of the normal ion balance. This can
have as a consequence.
Salty liquorice must therefore be labeled “Adult liquorice – no children’s liquorice” if its ammonia content is at least 400 milligrams per 100 grams.