A lesson in licorice

Project leads to education in the candy kids love to twist

Project leads to education in the candy kids love to twist


We made a Bunny Cake for Easter dinner, decorated with jelly beans, gumdrops and string licorice.

It truly was a family project. I baked the cake, my husband cut it into the shape of a bunny face and our children frosted and decorated it.

The jelly beans went around the bowtie, the gumdrops became eyes and a nose, and the licorice was cut for whiskers and a mouth.

Perhaps you made one, too. The recipe was in The Herald-Mail's coupon inserts a week or two before Easter. In case you missed it, go to, click on Crisco recipes, and search for Easter Bunny Cake. (My apologies to Crisco. I used a box cake mix rather than follow the recipe for one from scratch.)


Like many of our family projects, this one prompted some interesting conversation. Should we make a repeating or continuing pattern with the jelly beans? Should the gumdrops be horizontal for the eyes and vertical for the nose or vice-versa? Should all the licorice whiskers be the same length or should that be varied?

I was staying out of the discussion as my daughter and son pondered these questions. Sometimes children get more creative if we just stand in the background, ready to help if needed.

Then my son turned to me, after he had carefully placed his side of the whiskers, and asked, "Mommy, how is licorice made?"

I thought about it for a few minutes and admitted that I didn't know. As usual, I told him we could find out together.

Licorice is a shrub with sweet roots that is native to southern Europe and Asia, according to

Some varieties of licorice root are 50 times sweeter than sugar. To make candy, water extracts of licorice roots can be mixed with sugar, corn syrup and flour. In the United States, however, anethole, a major constituent in the anise plant, is a popular substitute flavoring agent for licorice, according to the Web site.

The main ingredients in Twizzlers licorice candy are corn syrup, flour, sugar, cornstarch, shortening, molasses and flavoring, says Judy Hogarth, a spokesperson for Hershey Foods Corporation. Hershey's owns Y&S Candies, maker of Twizzlers candy licorice.

The ingredients are mixed and cooked together in big kettles for several hours, Hogarth says. The mixture then flows through a pipe into a hopper on top of an extruder. At this point, it is getting thick, close to the consistency of the candy. It is pushed through the extruder to become a rope, string, nib or bite, according to

The licorice will assume whatever shape is on the end of the extruder. The licorice is cut, dried, wrapped in cellophane, boxed, cased and "out the door they go," Hogarth says.

The concept is similar to a pasta machine, cookie press or cheese grater.

The licorice-making process takes several hours. It would be difficult to try at home, Hogarth says, because the cooking temperature of the licorice mixture has to be very high.

To help children understand the process, pull out some Play-Doh and the "spaghetti tool" tube they can push dough through to make long strings or thick logs, Hogarth suggests. This is a basic example of an extruder.

Here are some fun facts about Twizzlers, courtesy of Hogarth:

-- If all the Twizzlers that are made in one year were laid end to end, they would circle Earth 25 times or stretch to the moon and back.

-- Licorice sells well in the summer because it doesn't melt on a hot day.

-- The biggest outlet for licorice is movie theater concession stands. So the next time you pick up a pack of Twizzlers at the movies, think about all that went into your little treat.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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