Black Licorice: Are There Health Benefits?

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, RD, LD, MPH on January 17, 2023
4 min read

Black licorice, sometimes spelled liquorice, is polarizing. It has a unique, potent flavor that people tend to either love or hate. 

If you like the taste, that’s fine. Just don’t count on health benefits. And don’t overdo it, if you can find genuine licorice. It’s OK for most people in small amounts, but there are some health risks if you get too much for too long. 

As for licorice candies, most aren't made with real licorice.

Licorice comes from a shrub that’s native to Turkey, Greece, and Asia. Traditionally, people in many cultures have used it for a wide range of ailments. And it’s still touted for possible health benefits. Today, there is some scientific research on its medicinal potential, but not enough to back its use for any health conditions.

You’ll find licorice used as a flavoring in personal care products like toothpaste and lozenges.

The root of the licorice plant, along with the underground stem and runners, are what people have used for medicinal uses for centuries.

Licorice root is often added to herbal teas to enhance the flavor. You can find licorice root tea in health food stores and some supermarkets. You may be able to find licorice root in some health food shops if you’d like to make the tea yourself.

Candy is never a health food, but here’s what a single serving of black licorice candy (about 1.5 ounces) contains:

  • 130 calories
  • 1 gram of protein
  • 1 gram of fat
  • 33 grams of carbohydrates
  • 1 gram of fiber
  • 6 grams of sugar

There’s a long tradition but not a lot of research.

“There isn’t enough high-quality evidence to clearly support its use for any health condition,” states the website of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

The compounds in licorice root that may be helpful include glycyrrhizin (which is 50 times sweeter than sugar), licoricidin, and liquiritin. 

Here are some of things that licorice has been studied for:

Sore throat. For centuries, people have sipped licorice root tea to help soothe a sore throat. A licorice compound called licoricidin has been shown to have antibacterial properties that may help. 

It could help your teeth. Antibacterial properties in licorice root extract might have potential to help prevent cavities. That’s not certain, though. Researchers did a preliminary study using sugar-free lollipops containing the extract to see if it was worth studying further. It did help the preschoolers who used the lollipops twice daily.  But more studies are needed to see how well this strategy works. Two licorice compounds, licoricidin and glabridin, may be what helps counter cavities.

It may help with digestion. Some research has looked at products made with licorice root for digestive symptoms. But since the products also included other ingredients, it’s hard to tell if licorice played a role in easing those symptoms.

When combined with standard acid reflux medication, certain nutrients found in licorice root – purified into a medical product and given at low doses -- may help you have fewer episodes. It can also make the ones you have less serious. However, this has only been studied in small clinical trials, so that’s not certain.

One small study focused exclusively on a product made with a compound extracted from licorice root. The researchers studied it in 50 people with functional dyspepsia, which includes symptoms like heartburn, nausea, and upset stomach. Half of the group took the product, the other half got a placebo, and they didn’t know which they’d gotten. Those who took the product got more relief from their symptoms than those who got the placebo.  The study didn’t show why that was.

It may help with eczema. Some studies have shown that gels that you put on your skin made with licorice root can help treat atopic dermatitis (also known as eczema). Licorice root can help reduce irritated, inflamed, and itchy skin caused by eczema.

If you know you have genuine licorice, it’s best to eat it in small amounts. Too much licorice, or using it for too long, can raise your blood pressure. It can also drop your potassium levels, and that could cause an abnormal heart rhythm. 

If you’re pregnant, having a lot of licorice is linked to a greater chance of premature birth and health problems in the baby.

The risk may stem from the glycyrrhizin in licorice. Too much of it can cause serious health problems. Exactly how much is too much isn’t clear because the amount of licorice in a product can vary. The risks with potassium and blood pressure are greatest for people who already have high blood pressure, heart disease, or kidney disease. 

For people who are 40 or older, eating at least 2 ounces of genuine black licorice daily for 2 weeks might lead to hospitalization for heart palpitations.

Genuine licorice can also interfere with some medicines and supplements, so be sure to talk with your doctor if you notice any changes in how your medicines or supplements work.

In moderation, there is little risk of heart problems. Genuine licorice isn’t something eaten in large amounts. But don’t use it for longer than a week unless your doctor says it’s OK. 

Don’t give licorice tea to an infant or toddler, and with older children, don’t give them licorice tea for more than a day without telling their doctor. 

If you're worried that you might be eating too much black licorice, look for low-sugar items flavored with anise oil instead.

Flavored products that aren’t genuine licorice but taste and smell just like it are an option. There are also licorice products that have had glycyrrhizin taken out. This is deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL).