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Licorice candy is a cherished confection, renowned for its unique chewy texture, traditionally infused with licorice extract. To captivate evolving tastes, modern confectionery companies have introduced vibrant sweet and sour flavors, appealing especially to younger generations.

The production of licorice and licorice-like products involves a blend of ingredients, including wheat flour and/or starch, corn syrup, sugar, fat,  citric acid, and more. These components are cooked and extruded into sticks or various shapes. Diverse combinations of fillings, colors, tastes, and coatings contribute to the range of licorice products available.

Wheat flour primarily serves as a stabilizer, constituting approximately 30% of the confection. During cooking, the partially gelatinized starch and denatured protein in the flour form a chewy matrix when combined with sugars. Some products utilize different starches or even a mixture of starches and/or wheat flour.

The manufacturing process of licorice involves open kettle cooking or continuous cooking using scraped surface heat exchangers like the 'votator' type. Additionally, these confections can be filled with various gel or fondant-like substances. Careful attention is given to balancing the water activity of both the filling and the outer licorice layer to prevent water migration and preserve the desired texture.

Licorice candy remains a classic confectionery item, treasured for its timeless allure, distinct flavor, and chewy texture. As consumer preferences evolve, the confectionery industry continues to innovate, offering an array of licorice candies to cater to diverse tastes and health-conscious choices.

Main Ingredients

  • Sweeteners: Sugar, Corn Syrup, HFCS Provide sweetness, bulk and affects texture.
  • Wheat Flour: Main stabilizer. Contributes to the texture and chewiness of the candy.
  • Fats: Vegetable fat such as palm oil can be added to improve licorice bite and extrusion properties.
  • Glycerin: Acts as a humectant and doctor agent
  • Artificial Flavorings and Colors: Impart the distinct taste and vibrant colors.
  • Licorice Extract: Adds the distinctive licorice flavor and color.
  • Molasses: Used in traditional licorice flavored candy to impart color, flavor, sweetness and bulk.
  • Acid: Adds a slight tartness and enhances flavor

Industrial Production

The manufacturing process for licorice paste involves critical steps to control moisture removal, gelatinization of wheat flour and/or starch, and achieve the desired gloss and texture. Here is a detailed breakdown of the processing procedures:

Ingredient mixing: Usually starts with wheat flour and water mixing to assure even dispersion. This slurry is gradually added to other ingredients in cooking pots at a slow rate for batch cooking or other ingredients can also be added into the flour slurry kettle to feed the votator. If using fats, they need to be added completely melted and the slurry should be  warm enough to incorporate the fats.

Cooking: Open kettle cookers usually take a long time to cook (2-3h), where initial solids are about 60% for final discharge solids of 70-74%. Pressure vessels are also used to speed up this process. This will require further drying. 

Continuous cooking under pressure is fed with a target moisture slurry (13-15%). Not much water can be flashed out at the end upon discharge of the slurry to ambient pressure (2-5%). Cooking temperatures of about 140-160°C (284-320°F) for 18-26s are needed to gelatinize the starch. The time-temperature relationship in this kind of system is critical to the effectiveness of cooking. Depending on the shape and texture desired, the confection will require certain degrees of gelatinization. Total gelatinization is not always desirable.

Minor ingredients addition: Acids, colors and flavors are added after cooking to avoid negative effects such as sugar inversion, color changes, and flavor flashing out.

Forming/extrusion: To form the licorice, the candy mass is forced under pressure through a die plate with holes that give the desired shape of the candy. Product is collected into conveyors to be cooled down.

Co-extrusion: Some extruders have the capacity to co-extrude the licorice paste and a sugar paste to achieve filled tubes and sandwich-like shapes.

Cooling: Decrease product temperature for a proper packaging process.

Finishing: Both oil and sanding can be applied. Oil is applied by the immersion of the extruded ropes into a pool with the desired coating oil mix. Sanding with sugar or a mix with acids could be applied to the licorice ropes after cooling and before cutting by applying a slight bath of steam and running under a sanding curtain. It can also be achieved right after cutting the ropes by dumpling the candy directly into continuous sanding drums.

Cutting: Size and weight of pieces will depend on the combination of conveyor speed vs extrusion speed (this will determine how much the product is elongated related to the piece width) and speed of cutting knife (piece length).

Drying: Process more common in old and traditional processes. Product is placed in open trays and put into curing rooms at about 70-74% solids to get to a final moisture of 10-14%.

Packaging: Package the cooled chewy candies into individual servings or bulk packs for distribution.


For licorice and licorice-like products, the critical aspect to control is the gelatinization of starch granules in the flour. This directly impacts texture. To achieve the required variation in gelatinization for a specific type of licorice, a balance among five factors is crucial:

  • Type and amount of wheat flour
  • Amount of water in the flour slurry and the final mix
  • Concentration of sugars during precooking. Notably, gelatinization can be significantly inhibited by sugar, especially when it exceeds 55%.
  • Cooking temperature and final solids.

Incorporating a small amount of vegetable fat, such as hardened palm kernel oil (HPKO), (around 2-3%) and a surfactant, such as glyceryl monostearate (GMS) (0.2-0.3%) enhances both the bite of the licorice and extrusion properties.

It's important to note that open pan recipes may not seamlessly translate to continuous cooking procedures. Specifically, the proportion of flour should be reduced in these recipes.

Packaging Barrier Properties

Shelf Life

In licorice candy and similar confections, several shelf-life issues may arise, affecting the quality and safety of the product over time. Here are some of the most common shelf life issues:

  • Staling or Texture Changes: Licorice candy can become stale, hard, or lose its chewiness over time, affecting its texture and overall appeal. Primarily due to moisture loss. 
  • Moisture Absorption: Absorption of moisture from the environment or moisture migration within the candy can lead to a change in texture and stickiness.
  • Crystallization of Sugar: Sugar crystallization can occur, resulting in a gritty texture and loss of smoothness, especially if there's an excess of sugar or inadequate processing.
  • Color Changes and flavor changes: Exposure to light, heat, or air can cause color fading or changes or flavor degradation or change, resulting in a loss of the distinctive licorice taste or the desired fruity/sweet flavor.
  • Fat Bloom: If fat or oil is used in the candy, inadequate storage conditions can cause fat to migrate to the surface, resulting in a dull, whitish appearance (fat bloom).
  • Oxidation: Exposure to oxygen can cause the fats or oils in the candy to oxidize, resulting in off-flavors, rancidity, and changes in color and texture.

To mitigate these issues and extend shelf life, proper packaging, storage in a cool, dry place, and appropriate formulation with stabilizers and antioxidants are essential. Regular testing for quality and safety is also crucial to ensure the product remains within acceptable standards throughout its shelf life.

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