Liquorice is viewed as a ‘typically Dutch’ product, and as a characteristic form of Dutch identity. But why is this the case? Liquorice is also eaten elsewhere, and the liquorice plant Glycyrrhiza glabra, the roots of which give the black sweet its distinctive taste, is not native to North-western Europe. Liquorice was probably first introduced to the Low Countries in the Middle Ages, as an ingredient for cough medicines. How did this ‘exogenous’ food become so closely linked to Dutch national identity? And when did liquorice become a sweet, rather than a medicine?


At NL-Lab, we investigate the history of liquorice. Why and when did liquorice become so popular? By combining knowledge on the history of the medical sciences and chemistry with knowledge on the history of cultural discourses, we investigate the relationship between physiological taste and cultural taste. In doing so, we also use ‘performative methods’; reconstructing historical liquorice recipes and sampling them in tasting sessions. What can we learn from tasting? In this way, the project traces how food and tastes are shaped by and form part of collective identities. This also provides new insights into the role that science plays in such emotional, social and political processes, and how liquorice is ‘tasted’, from the pharmacy to the sweet shop.


The research on liquorice forms part of a wider research project on taste and identity. How were historical taste-identities formed? In the Early Modern period, an era with few effective medicines and limited institutionalised healthcare, the medicinal use of pharmaceutical preparations, foods, tastes and diets played an important role in the maintenance and restoration of health. This project analyses how sensory and cultural tastes jointly shaped individual and national identities.





  • The British Journal for the History of Science, theme issue Taste in the History of Science, Marieke Hendriksen and Alexander Wragge-Morley (Lancaster University), will be published in 2022