Discovering the Secrets of Pontefract Cakes in Black, Bold, and Delicious

Pontefract cakes

The small market town of Pontefract, Yorkshire—born from the Norman conquest and home to a rich history of royal battles and posh affairs—holds an intriguing secret. One of its most beloved treats has been its greatest medicine for centuries: the liquorice cake.

What could have driven ancient Englanders to work this spongy, black-as-tar delicacy into their diets? Curiosity caught me in my tracks, and I had to find out more. As I began researching the Pontefract Cake’s mysterious past, I unearthed a captivating tale that was punctuated by multiple monarch disputes and dark love affairs.

My heart raced with excitement as I thought about my next stop: a visit to the abandoned medieval castle that housed this delectable treat’s story. Could its winding walls provide answers as to why liquorice cakes were so important then…and now? Join me on this journey of discovery where we uncover fairy tales, festival fanatics and other enchanting delights surrounding Pontefract Cakes!

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Liquorice Allsorts: A Quick Guide to the Classic Treat  

a jar with spilled Bassetts Liquorice Allsorts Sweets

When George Bassett made the daring move to establish his company in 1842, he never predicted its success. But as of 1852, shortly after the opening of the first factory in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, his venture began to bloom and thrive.

Bassett’s steady growth was powered by its flagship product: Bassetts Liquorice Allsorts Sweets.

This product has become so beloved that it is now on sale around the world, over one hundred and sixty years later!

The company stands as a testament to sturdy business principles, directional perseverance and strategic vision.

It has endured droughts and turbulence in the history of its 165 years and continues to be a respected name even today.

But how did this delicious treat come to be?

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Uncovering the Delicious Secrets of Liquorice Sweets

bunch of liquorice sweets

Welcome to the fascinating world of liquorice sweets! It’s a treat millions of people worldwide have enjoyed for centuries. You probably already have your favourite brands and types of liquorice you love most, but have you ever wondered about the origins of this unique flavour?

The definition of confectionery is any food made from sugar, often in combination with other ingredients such as chocolate, nuts, or fruit. Liquorice is extracted from the roots of the liquorice plant, which is native to the Mediterranean and certain parts of Asia. This combination and how it’s used as a flavouring ingredient create some of the most delicious and iconic sweets and treats.

In this article, we will dive deep into the history and production of liquorice sweets and also explore the health benefits of natural Liquorice roots and the cultural significance of this popular confectionery product. So get ready to uncover the delicious secrets of liquorice sweets!

Licorice steeped in vinegar, with honey and cloves. It will give you some strength and clear your head.

Author: George R R Martin
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Barratts hard liquorice sticks 

Barratts hard liquorice sticks

Barratts Hard Liquorice Sticks – A classic British sweet made by Barratt’s. The original recipe has been kept secret since 1892. 

In recent years, the popularity of liquorice has increased significantly. It is now sold in almost every country around the globe. Because of this rise in demand, production and quality standards have gone up. Some suggest that the liquorice made today tastes and feels much better than it did in the past. It follows that improvements to processing and access to better technology have the potential to increase efficiency, but ingredients in confectionery making are pretty much the same as a century ago. 

Does nostalgia play a role in how we perceive taste? 

Today, we will look at one of the best liquorice products currently available from the UK-based company Barratts. First, we are going to look at their hard liquorice sticks. Barratts Hard Liquorice Sticks are made using only the finest natural ingredients and quality liquorice extract. They contain absolutely no artificial colours, flavours, or preservatives. Furthermore, these liquorice sticks are made using a tried and tested recipe, some say, a secret recipe. The resulting product is hard, chewy, and delicious. 

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The Best Story of Licorice Allsorts

Licorice Allsorts

When George Bassett founded his sweet company in 1842, he could never have imagined the success his business would bring him. Bassett’s first factory opened shortly after in 1852 in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, and the company has remained there ever since! One of Bassett’s most popular products is Licorice Allsorts. But how did this delicious treat come to be? 

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Which is better? Licorice or Liquorice?

licorice candys

When it comes to the spelling of Licorice, there is a big difference between Americans and Brits. While the Brits spell it Liquorice, the Americans spell it Licorice. But what most people don’t know is that there is a big difference in how these two words are pronounced.

The American pronunciation for Liquorice is “LICK-uh-rocee” while the British pronunciation is “LEEK-oh-ricee”. This is important because if you want to pronounce the word correctly, you need to make sure that your tongue is positioned at the back of your mouth when pronouncing the word. If you do not have the correct positioning of your tongue, then you will end up with an incorrect pronunciation.

This has always been a bit of a source of contention between the two countries, as each believes that their way of pronouncing it is the right way. But no matter which way you say it, there’s no denying that Licorice is a delicious treat!

And if physiological technical issues are anything to go by, taste and preferences are also key elements in this debate about Liquorice vs Licorice.

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Salty Liquorice; Happy you found it?

Salty Liquorice graphics with a salt shaker depicting Salmiak Liquorice or Salmiakki

Salty or Salt Liquorice is unavoidable in 2021. No longer just the reserve of Nordic Liquorice fanatics, so is it time we embraced the disparate taste and just got on with it?

Salty Liquorice Daarling

Salty Liquorice was a hot topic on TV last year when Nigella Lawson revealed her excellent Liquorice box! A dark and substantial item; brimming with an array of tasty and perhaps challenging; liquorice treats.

Not only is Nigella a Liquorice fan, but she loves the contradictory tastes of sweet and salt, that is, in our experience, an acquired taste.

Inspired by Nigella’s revelation, I’m led to ask the question that haunts me so often: Why is Salmiak, or Salt Liquorice so popular in Scandanavia, yet little known in the U.K?

Salty liquorice Nordic Noir

When I say Scandanavia, I’m cheekily rounding up a couple of extra countries too! And referring to the seven serious Liquorice loving countries: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Finland, the Netherlands and Germany (in its North). When I’m referring to salty Liquorice, you should know it’s not the salt you put on your chips; this is Sal Ammoniac or Ammonium chloride.

Although it’s not clear when these flavours were first put together, by the 1930’s Salmiakki cough pastilles were part of life in the high streets of those Salty Seven countries. The flavour combination appealed.

In Finland, Liquorice production has produced both the sweet and salty (Salmiakki) varieties for a long time. However, in the North of the country, an old established business still makes from an “open batch method.” This semi-automated process allows an artisan approach to the making of confectionery. Since cooking, Liquorice originated as an artisan process. Like all cooking, variation is often a necessity that allows creative magic to happen.

Salmiakki or Salmiak Liquorice

salty liquorice apothercaries matt briney 0tfz7ZoXaWc unsplash

Salmiakki is soft Liquorice with ammonium chloride added to give it its distinctive saltiness. More ammonium chloride means stronger, saltier and more potent Salmiakki. This confectionery was thought to have originated in pharmacies that manufactured their own cough medicine. Ammonium chloride – known for being able to break down mucus – was added to the mixture.

Why do Scandinavians like salty licorice?

My mother was Norwegian. Her sister Eldfrida had a persistent cough, and I remember when, as boys, my brother and I would visit her with my mum. She’d only find relief after taking her Liquorice cough lozenges. They came in a little tin and called Tyrkisk Peber salty liquorice. Not surprisingly, we were fascinated with them. But when we did manage to sneak one into our mouths, our reaction was anything but enthralled. And in my professional capacity as a Liquorice seller, I’ve seen countless people grimace, coughing, looking for the nearest bin to deposit their taster. That Salt Liquorice is an acquired taste is an understatement to the Sweet Liquorice loving average Brit.

But we know that Liquorice Roots have exceptional health properties and have been used since the earliest times. Liquorice root Sticks are our go-to remedy for any coughs and colds in our household. And it works. Glycyrrhizin, a significant component of Liquorice, is useful in the treatment of inflammatory respiratory diseases. In addition, studies reveal Glycyrrhizin inhibits mucus hyperproduction. Apothecaries though time, have used Liquorice for cough and cold therapies.

So by induction, adding Ammonium chloride would bolster the mucus inhibiting effects of the medicine, would it not? And invent a new confectionery Salmiak Liquorice. But how do we, as a nation of Sweet Liquorice fans, take to this Nordic idea of taste? 

Salty Liquorice for Brits? 

In our experience, generally, folks express either love of Liquorice or they loath it. The distinctive taste polarises opinion, just like Marmite, who use the slogan “Love it or hate it” in marketing. It is so ingrained in our culture, we use the term as a metaphor for likes or dislikes. 

So how much more polarised does Salt Liquorice make us fans of the black stuff, plenty I can tell you. Saint Valentines were one of the first to sell this variety when we started back in 1994. Some customers thought we were playing a trick on them if they sampled it. Dislike, or as the metaphor states, “hate” has many forms of verbal expression, too negative to mention here. But since then, Salt Liquorice has grown in prominence with the growth of imported Dutch Salty Liquorice & Swedish Salty Liquorice. 

This summer, we saw record sales of Salt Liquorice, including the Double and Triple Dutch Salt Liquorice varieties we now stock at Latitude, Beautiful Days and End of the Road Festivals. So perhaps being happy, relaxing with a beer and friends and sharing a Salty Liquorice treat is part of our cultural landscape, not just the Scandinavians. 

Double Salty or Salt Liquorice Triangle

Double Salt Triangles

Liquorice fans don’t have a monopoly on happiness, of course.
But we still love to see your passion for life and all things Liquorice.

A complete guide to using sustainable packaging from Saint Valentines.

sustainable energy from wind turbines
sustainable packaging sourced at Saint Valentines

The concept of “going green” isn’t just idealistic anymore—modern customers care about sustainability. Where possible we use recycled & recyclable products. We want to contribute to a better future.

Our planet

Sustainable packaging is crucial at Saint Valentine’s Liquorice Company. We are doing our very best to be environmentally friendly. We send your liquorice to you in 100% recycled and recyclable packaging, using cardboard boxes and paper packing. Plus, two years ago, we started using Nature Flex biodegradable, compostable film for all our bags. There’s always more we can do, and we’re making an effort to up-level our business.

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My Sweet Liquorice, as luck would have it, I found you love it.

ropes of sweet liquorice

Sweet liquorice is this nation’s oldest and possibly favourite confection. Pontefract, a spiritual home for it. Little did I know when I started the Saint Valentines Liquorice Co in 1994 to supply the finest quality Italian liquorice, just how passionate we are about it. Britain and specifically Yorkshire can be very proud of its liquorice roots (no pun intended). Our love affair with the sweet black liquorice stuff goes back a long, long way. But as luck would have it, my sweet Liquorice met everyone’s expectations of what “proper liquorice” should taste like.

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Liquorice Trivia What is liquorice all about?

Gourmet Liquorice online from Saint Valentines Liquorice Company's online shop homepage line drawn image of liquorice for all about natural liquorice page

What is liquorice all about?

Did you know that because it has unique health properties, the pharmaceutical industry uses harvested natural liquorice? A product is extracted from the natural roots of a plant; Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Sweet Root). Nature has gifted the plant with super health qualities that have been used to treat health issues since the earliest times. The confectionery industry only uses some.

We very much believe in the health benefits of natural Liquorice too, using it as an ingredient in a variety of non-confectionery products including luscious soap. SHOP NOW

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