Sunday, September 28, 2008


What we normally think of as "licorice" flavor is really anise, a plant closely related to the carrot family, which includes dill, fennel, coriander, cumin and caraway. (The leaves, stems, seeds, and bulb of the fennel plant are used in all kinds of cooking, and they all add a licorice flavor.) Only recently did I learn that the true licorice plant is entirely different. It a legume (think peas and beans) used in a lot of European black licorice candies. The common ingredient in anise, fennel, and licorice is anethole, the chemical that gives all three that "licorice" smell and taste. But licorice also contains glycyrrhizin, a sugar 30-50 times sweeter than sugar.

Twizzler's Black Licorice, as an example, has a trace amount of licorice extract, but most of the flavor comes from anise. If you want to try authentic licorice (made from the extract of the plant), I recommend Kookaburra Liquorice (imported from Australia), or RJ's Licorice (imported from New Zealand). Both are available at local grocery stores. (I bought mine at Macey's.) Both companies also make licorice allsorts, but the classic allsorts are Bassett's, made by Cadbury.

On my mission in Denmark, I also discovered salt licorice, or salmiak, truly an acquired taste. (In Denmark, it's called saltlakrids.) Salt licorice doesn't actually have any salt. The salty taste comes from ammonium chloride, or sal ammoniac. The name salmiak derives from this compound. If anyone knows where you can buy this stuff locally, I will be much obliged. (The great thing about developing a taste for salmiak is that you usually don't have to share.)

Red licorice, of course, isn't licorice at all, but it's the most favorite variety of the candy. Black licorice was originally just "licorice," but when red licorice came along, black licorice got its name. This linguistic change is called a "retronym." (For example, some people refer to "Rocky" as "Rocky I" to distinguish it from all the other movies. World War I didn't get that name until World War II.) The red licorice topic raises another important question: Red Vines or Twizzlers?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Applebee's Makes it Up to Us

After my long rant against Applebee's (and an email to corporate), I got a call from the manager of the store in American Fork. She explained that what I experienced is not their normal level of service, and they wanted to make it up to me somehow. So she agreed to send me a voucher for two free meals including entree, dessert, and drinks. (It turned about that it didn't include dessert after all, but that was all right.) She also made a particular point of saying that I should call ahead so that they would know I was coming.

But what is the point of announcing that you're coming? Of course you'll get good service that way. AnneMarie and I stopped by without advanced notice because I wanted to get the same service that regular folks get and also because I didn't want everyone fawning over us to make sure they got everything right. The food and service were fine. When we gave the voucher to the server, the manager came over to make sure that we had had a good experience.

Overall, I feel that they're at least trying harder over at Applebee's (although I still like Chili's better for consistently good food and service).