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Too much licorice killed a Massachusetts construction worker

Plastic tubs of bulk gummi candy, including lots of licorice, in a grocery store aisle
Photo: Jim Green (Getty Images)

Few candies are as polarizing as black licorice. Fans can’t seem to get enough of the stuff, and in Scandinavian and Nordic countries licorice is so popular it’s practically a cultural phenomenon. For those who don’t like the taste, though (such as myself), black licorice is something to be avoided, or at best, endured. But even licorice detractors might be surprised to learn that a construction worker in Massachusetts literally died thanks to his daily licorice habit.

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The problem, according to a report from the Associated Press (AP), lies in the consumption of glycyrrhizic acid, a compound found in products containing licorice root extract. This acid can dangerously reduce potassium levels and can imbalance electrolytes, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has even published an official, Halloween-themed warning about the dangers of black licorice consumption, stating, “If you’re 40 or older, eating 2 ounces of black licorice a day for at least two weeks could land you in the hospital with an irregular heart rhythm or arrhythmia.”

But look, if you love the stuff, you can continue to eat licorice safely; while the medical case study regarding this death was recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the deceased licorice lover actually died some time ago. It’s not like America is currently facing a wave of licorice-related deaths, and you’re not taking your life into your own hands if you like the occasional anise-flavored treat.

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But, speaking as an avoider of black licorice, I can’t help but notice the passage that reads, “The man had switched from red, fruit-flavored twists to the black licorice version of the candy a few weeks before his death last year.” I guess if you want to be extra safe you should just stick to Twizzlers or Red Vines?

Jacob Dean is a food and travel writer and psychologist based in New York. He likes beer, less traveled airports, and is allergic to grasshoppers (the insect, not the mixed drink.)

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DISCUSSION

atheissimo
Atheissimo

I had a near death experience with licorice, in the form of black sambuca, which mixed with Jack Daniels and your 17th birthday forms a deadly cocktail.