The Disappointment of Honey Fried Licorice

October 29, 2019

honey fried licorice

Customer email to from Victoria P

"Very disappointed to see "honey fried" in your formulas. I thought they would be vegan, couldn't you find a substitute, maple syrup, agave or something. Thanks"

I really don't like disappointing customers.

Disappointing customers is rarely the goal of business unless you are a cell phone carrier and then it seems like it is part of the business model. The thing we did to disappoint Victoria was to use licorice root that had been honey-fried. Honey is not vegan so any product we make with an ingredient that has been honey-fried is also off limits to vegans so I thought it might be good to take a minute to explain why we use this ingredient.

Frying licorice in honey has been around for about 1,000 years. You literally dump slices of licorice root and honey in a hot wok and cook it until the honey forms a deep brown glaze. It is often assumed that this process is about flavor but it is not. The time and temperature of the frying process change the chemical composition of the root by degrading some constituents and by driving off a portion of the more volatile compounds. The honey helps us in three ways: acting as a temperature regulator, a thermometer and a timer.

Temperature regulation is a function of water content. As long as there is still water in the honey, the temperature of the mixture will be close to or below 212°F. As the water boils out of the honey, the temperature will slowly rise and when we see the mixture start to brown we know the temperature has gotten above 280°F the temperature at which the Maillard reaction starts to break down amino acids and brown sugars. The shade of brown acts as a crude thermometer, the darker the color the hotter the temperature. When we get the mixture to a deep caramel brown we know we have reached the right amount of time and the process is complete.  

Victoria, understandably, suggested that we use maple syrup or agave instead of honey for this process but to understand why we don’t it is important to talk about the sugar content and water content of each of these liquids and compare them to honey. The technical measure of sugar content is degrees Brix.


Degrees Brix Water Content







Maple Syrup




Maple syrup has nearly twice the water content and far few sugars than honey. Agave is moving in the right direction it still falls quite short of the values in honey. This means each of these liquids would keep the licorice at different temperatures for different amounts of time than frying in honey. The licorice would also brown at different rates in maple syrup or agave leaving us with and unpredictable final product.  Imagine cooking a soufflé and changing the cook time or temperature.   

Our job is to make consistent and effective products for our customers, not disappoint vegans. There is a lot of science and tradition that go into the process that are not as flexible as people might think and honey-fried licorice is a perfect example of that.

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.

Also in The Herbalogic Blog

Re-watching Contagion in a Time of COVID-19
Re-watching Contagion in a Time of COVID-19

March 19, 2020

Nine years ago Jeanine and her husband celebrated their 6th wedding anniversary by going to the movies and seeing Contagion (WTF is up with Jeanine's film choice?). This seems like a good time to read what she wrote in reaction to the Chinese herb subplot in the movie.

Continue Reading

10 Must-haves in Your Coronavirus Emergency Kit
10 Must-haves in Your Coronavirus Emergency Kit

February 28, 2020

Jeanine spends a lot of time reading the updates on COVID-19, aka "the coronavirus". With all the talk of getting prepared, she shares her list of essential emergency kit items.

Continue Reading

Wuhan 2019 nCOv
Wuhan 2019 nCOv

February 04, 2020

There is a lot of misinformation about herbs and how well they work for preventing and managing viral infections.  Dave and Jeanine talk about the current snapshot of the Wuhan corona virus and good practices both herbal and other to help prevent and or manage infection.

Continue Reading