Licorice and Sarsaparilla – Things are Not Always as They Seem

red licorice If you’re eating something with a licorice (or liquorice) flavor, it’s almost a sure bet that it has little or none of the real root extract in it. And then you have things called licorice that never had it and never will, like the things called “Twizzlers” and “Red Vines” today. They had other names years ago.

What about sarsaparilla? It was a popular soft drink in the 1800s and pronounced without the first “r” in old cowboy movies. You can only find it on rare occasions in the United States and usually in stores that specialize in unique items. I’ve drunk it more than once, but only once in the United States.

The Licorice Plant

The Glycyrrhiza glabra is native to areas in Asia and Europe. Anise is similar in flavor and sometimes called licorice. A friend once described a cocktail called the “Jelly Bean” and anise was the ingredient. He swore it tasted just like a black licorice jelly bean.

While I was on the base in North Carolina, one of my coworkers dug a root up from a bush, cut a piece off and chewed on it before getting me to try another piece. It tasted like licorice but I had no idea what kind of plant it was. Maybe he told me and I forgot. That was way back in 1988.

The Sarsaparilla Soft Drink

Sarsaparilla was originally made with the Smilax_ornata plant, but modern versions of it are sometimes artificially flavored.

At some point, when I was in grade school, I went on a field trip to Rawhide. It’s in Chandler, Arizona today but I believe it was in Scottsdale back then. It’s an “old west” theme park.

The only thing they served in the saloon back then was authentic sarsaparilla, or so they told us. I’ve had “Sarsi” twice while living in the Philippines. I don’t like the taste today any more than I did back then.

Am I trying to make a point with all this? Well, I guess it’s just to convince you that it’s easy to fake almost anything.

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