As a citizen of a licorice-consuming country, I was pleased to find out that our oh-so-beloved sweet is not only delicious, but also has a surprising number of benefits (especially where your teeth are concerned).
Studies have found that the natural chemicals in licorice, an extract from a the root of a plant called Glycyrrhiza Glabra, can kill mouth bacteria.
Combating mouth bacteria
The experiments, published in the journal Chemical Communications, discovered that a compound found in licorice, known as trans-chalcone actively combats the key enzyme that allows bacteria to form a harmful layer (or bio film) over oral cavities. This way, licorice can prevent the buildup of dental plaque (the film of bacteria that grows on teeth). This plaque, if combined with mouth acid and poor dental hygiene, can easily lead to tooth decay.
Licorice and oral products with similar natural compounds can therefore act as a natural alternative for chemical toothpaste. The sweet is also said to work as a natural gum cleaner, so chewing on a sugar-free licorice stem could help to prevent gum disease.
The researchers say they are expanding their studies “to include similar natural products and investigate if they can be incorporated into consumer products. This exciting discovery highlights the potential of this class of natural products in food and healthcare technologies.”
What kind of licorice should I consume?
Of course it is important to recognise that consuming licorice in large doses is not a good idea and can outweigh the benefits (so don’t get too over-excited by running to the nearest supermarket to buy the first bag of licorice you see). ‘Licorice products’ that contain added sugars and only small percentages of the plant root, are likely to do more harm than good to your teeth and general health.
It is therefore important to consume products that contain the purest form of licorice; examples include licorice sticks, natural licorice tea and biological licorice candy.
Additional health benefits
Chinese, Egyptian, Roman, Greek and Indian cultures have been using licorice to enhance the effectiveness of other herbs and other health benefits since ancient times (although some have turned out to be more plausible than others).
Nowadays, scientists have found that the root can help to open airways and could be used to combat sore throats, inflammation, viruses, (stomach) ulcers and even cancer. The other possible health benefits of licorice, i.e. it’s potential use as an antidote for chronic cocaine abuse or for those suffering from Addison’s disease, are still being studied.