black and white lollies
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Aniseed was one of the first ingredients to be used in what we now call confectionery, and remains a popular flavour to this day.
But what is it about humbug lollies that we like so much?
What are humbugs?
Humbugs are a traditional boiled sweet. They are always striped, and usually black and white. In the UK, humbugs are flavoured with peppermint oil but here in Australia they are flavoured with aniseed. Mint humbugs, wrapped in a cellophane twist, give way to a slightly chewy centre. Traditional aniseed humbugs are more like rock candy, shaped as pillowy pyramids, and sold unwrapped.
Like most hard boiled sweets, humbug lollies are made by heating sugar and glycerine together with colour and flavour. Heated to 145C, the sugary mass is then stretched and folded as it cools. It is then rolled into cylinders, sliced, and then twisted to form the final familiar shapes. The stripes are created by folding together two different colour ‘doughs’.
Aniseed sweets have been around since the 1400s. Known as comfits, hard sugary sweets began as medicines, made with the aromatic herbs and spices of the local apothecary. These sweets consisted of a seed, such as anise, encased in a hard sugary coating. Sugar was used to make the strong flavours more palatable.
A spoonful of sugar does indeed make the medicine go down.
Aniseed flavour in sweets
The flavour of aniseed in sweets certainly divides the crowd. And its medicinal personality cannot be denied. For some, candy that tastes like cough medicine is a step too far. For others, it could be this very quality, that provides its comforting appeal.
When we refer to aniseed as a flavour, rather than the plant or seed itself, what we mean is a distinct flavour molecule known as ‘anethole’. Used for centuries to flavour food and drink, this aromatic compound is found in aniseed, star anise, fennel and licorice. All of these plants were prized for their medicinal properties.
Anise is perhaps best well known for its digestive qualities. It can help with nausea and stimulate the appetite. After a meal it can help soothe the digestion, eliminate gas, and freshen the breath.