No doubt your eyebrows shifted upward a notch or two at the title. What I found regarding this popular candy ingredient raised my eyebrows, too.
First, I’d like to point out that licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) and anise (the herb that people who don’t like licorice really don’t like) only taste somewhat similar. Anise is many times more intense and is often used to bolster the flavor of something “licorice-flavored.” The tastes are therefore often confused.
Second, licorice root is fifty times sweeter than sugar and has no calories. This is due to the chemical glycyrrizin. Good sweetener for diabetics, they say.
Licorice has been used for millenia for longevity (lifelong as well as erotic) and for arousal. It’s a longtime favorite of China, Egypt and India for these purposes. But does it work?
The adrenal glands produce phytoestrogen sterols. Translated, that means the main components of estrogen, the female sex hormone. Licorice has traces of similar chemicals, and some women have reported arousal as a result of licorice. I suspect that the candy in question was European, as American licorice candy is very weak by comparison and often has no actual licorice in it. In any case, ingested phytohormones haven’t been documented as making much of a difference to actual hormone levels.
There are other substances in licorice that appear to increase testosterone levels (improving sex drive in both sexes) and preserve other hormones from breaking down.
The scent of licorice has a measurable effect just on its own. A study at the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago discovered that the smell of black licorice increased the blood flow to the penis by 13 percent. Other studies suggest that the effect on women is even greater.
So is it an aphrodisiac? In a mild way, I would have to say: yes.