the history of liquorice Liquorice online from Saint Valentines Liquorice Company's online shop valentines-liquorice.uk homepage image of liquorice timeline graphic

The history of Liquorice in 5 easy lessons

The history of Liquorice is a long one; that’s why we made this lovely long Liquorice timeline; see above, or read on for more twists to the sweet story.

1. Roots in Nature

To start with, our hunter-gatherer ancestors, in touch with nature, would have known all about Liquorice and its uses, but that’s prehistory, so let’s get up to date!

2. Love Liquorice? Munch on some history.

If you love Liquorice, you are in royal company; archaeologists have found the roots in the tombs of Egyptian Pharaohs dating back to the fourteenth century BCE. In 1922, the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb revealed among the many artefacts, food and spices a significant hoard of liquorice root.

That’s Greek to me!

In the fourth to third century BCE, Theophrastus, the great Greek botanist, pharmacologist, disciple of Plato and Aristotle, provides the first records of Liquorice used as a drug in Europe. According to him, the Ancient Greeks probably learnt about the medicinal properties of Liquorice from the Scythians, an ethnic group living in the Ukraine between the Black and Caspian seas. Originally Theophrastus, who is among the first to study medicinal herbs with scientific accuracy, named the plant ‘Scythian’ root. 

Liquorice and the Divine farmer

Go further East circa 200-250 CE, and you’ll find Liquorice recorded as a noble or ‘upper herb’ in the ancient Chinese text Shennong Benacaojing or the Classic of Herbal Medicine. This famous text is by Shennong, Yan Emporer, well known as the first Emporer of ancient China. Often called the Divine Farmer, he was a mythological Chinese ruler; who became a deity and a cultural hero in folk religion. What incredibly ancient and auspicious Liquorice roots! Liquorice is an essential ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine to this day.

Where do you find it?

Have you heard of the “Fertile Crescent”? Well, think early civilisations around the Mediterranean & the boot of Italy. Calabria is the heart of traditional Italian production. Growing like weeds it’s particularly rich in the compounds that give it its unique flavour. However, we have made it easy for you to find, check out our shop where you can get Calabrian Liquorice powder for making delicious ice cream, cakes and innumerable other delights.

Some more history

Drawn liquorice heart from the liquorice experts Saint Valentines Liquoirce Company online liquoirce shop valentines-liquorice.uk

The Romans

Romans marched their armies with the troops chewing the root as a medicinal stick. Including its thirst-quenching qualities, Liquorice can help with sore throats plus legions of other symptoms!

The Middle Ages

Dark times for some, but the crusaders and monks were bright enough to bring liquorice back to England. The history of Liquorice has arrived in the UK shores.

16th Century

Monks were recorded cultivating liquorice in the 16th century (think Tudors) in Pontefract. (Where? A town in West Yorkshire which gave its name to Liquorice delights)

3. 1720 Pontefract

Circa 1720, demand for Liquorice root grows for its medicinal properties, and the former dungeons of Pontefract Castle are a perfect place to store it! By 1750 there were 47 Liquorice growers in Pontefract. An apothecary named George Dunhill created the first Liquorice confectionery by adding sugar. People loved it! And by the nineteenth century, 25,000 cakes a day were being made and stamped with the Pontefract Castle symbol.

The 1920s

By 1920 Pontefract had 10 factories employing many women hand-rolling liquorice pipes and cakes (legend has it that women make the best cigars too, rolling them against their thigh, but we admit the quality of liquorice probably has more to do with where it comes from)

Demand outstripped supply and all liquorice extract is imported from Calabria, Italy recognised as the best. Other Calabrian exports include Steve Tyler’s family, of Aerosmith, dad to the luscious Liv!

4. World War II

Gloom descended with World War II – and sugar rationing until 1954. Together they stopped the UK Liquorice industry. And if that wasn’t enough, the snack and chocolate industry grows during the 1970s. Poor old Liquorice is fast going out of fashion in England. Until at last something good had to happen.

About Saint Valentines Liquorice Company

5. Saint Valentines Liquorice Company was born. 

1994 Saint Valentines Liquorice Co starts to supply quality gourmet liquorice from individual producers. All so that you can enjoy it now. We now have our small role to play in the history of Liquorice.

Drawn liquorice heart from the liquorice experts Saint Valentines Liquoirce Company online liquoirce shop valentines-liquorice.uk we hope you find something you love here too.

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