October 29, 2019
Customer email to firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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.
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