What’s A Good Licorice Root Substitute?

Licorice is one of those flavors that you either love or hate, which means that it won’t be as common as some of the more popular spices. You may find yourself in need of a substitute if you want to make your own licorice candy, root beer, or licorice tea. To get a good approximation of the licorice flavor, consider one of the following licorice root substitutes.

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Table of Contents

Your best bet: Licorice extract

Licorice extract usually consists of a tincture of licorice root. A tincture is made by extracting compounds from the licorice root with ethyl alcohol. A homemade version of this ingredient can be made using licorice root and vodka. The tincture contains the same compounds that give licorice root its distinctive taste, so you will be getting an almost exact replication of the root’s flavor.

Using liquid licorice extract is an easy way to add the flavor of licorice to baked goods, homemade root beer, and other preparations. It’s also what is used to make most licorice candy. It is easier to find and easier to measure out than licorice root. Use licorice extract in most recipes that require licorice root.

A decent second choice: Anise

Anise is a member of the parsley family and has a flavor similar to that of licorice root. The part that is most often used to get the licorice flavor is the seed. Anise is used in many of the same ways that licorice root is used. For example, it shows up in many candies and liqueurs, as well as in desserts.

The similarity between anise and licorice is largely due to the fact that both contain a compound called anethole. Anethole is an essential oil that is the source of the eucalyptus note that comprises most of the licorice flavor. The anethole makes anise so similar to licorice that many supposedly licorice-flavored candies are actually flavored with anise. It is actually very rare for licorice candies to contain more than two percent licorice, which means that the rest of the flavor consists mostly of anise.

You can use anise in any application that requires licorice root. You can even make a tincture with anise seed that you can use exactly as you would use licorice root.

In a pinch: Star anise

Despite the fact that it shares its name with anise, star anise is an entirely different plant from a different part of the world. Star anise gets its name from the fact that the tree bears a star-shaped pericarp. Star anise is produced by a large evergreen tree that grows in Asia and that is related to the magnolia tree.

Despite the differences in the regions from which they originate, the flavor of star anise is strikingly similar to that of licorice root. Like licorice and anise, star anise contains anethole and will have a flavor that is redolent of eucalyptus and mint. Unlike the substitutes above, that are known mostly for their use in sweet preparations, star anise’s claim to fame is its role in Chinese five-spice powder and Asian dishes.

In a pinch: Fennel seed

Fennel seed can be used as a substitute for licorice root in some cases, but it does not have the exact same flavor profile. Licorice root has a strong, sweet taste with a slightly bitter aftertaste, while fennel seed has a more subtle, slightly sweet flavor.

However, fennel seed does contain anethole, which is the compound responsible for the licorice-like flavor. Fennel seed can be used to add a similar flavor to both sweet and savory dishes. And it can also be used to make tea or infused into syrups for coughs and other medicinal purposes. Ultimately, it depends on the specific recipe and taste preferences of the individual whether fennel seed can be a good substitute for licorice root.

Other alternatives

Sambuca is one of several alcoholic beverages from the Mediterranean region that have licorice flavor notes. While the source of sambuca’s flavor is actually anise, it does have a flavor that will work in many applications that require the licorice root flavor. Other similar beverages include raki, ouzo, and Pernod.