It’s National Licorice Day, celebrating one of the most polarizing treats of our time.

The people who love it love it, and the people who don’t aren’t shy about saying so.

Maybe it would help if we explained how we got to this impasse?

Licorice candy comes from licorice root, a plant that’s been used for thousands of years.

There’s evidence of licorice root being used in ncient China, ancient India, ancient Rome, medieval Europe, it’s a long list.

Most often it was used as an herbal treatment for a range of health problems, from curing sore throats and asthma to staving off dehydration in soldiers.

But at times, it was also used in baking, because the root includes a naturally sweet compound called glycyrrhizin.

It’s said that in 1760, a pharmacist in Pontrefract, England added sugar to some cough medicine made from licorice root, and realized he’d invented candy.

By the mid 1800s licorice was being made and sold all over Europe and beyond.

But with great popularity comes a great backlash.

It wasn’t just that some people didn’t like eating the candy… they thought it was so terrible that they couldn’t understand how anyone could like it!

We don’t know for sure why this is, other than different people like different tastes.

But there is a theory: for some people, glycyrrhizin tastes like the artificial sweetener saccharin, sort of a bitter mixed with sweet taste.

It’s sort of like how some people love cilantro and other people think it tastes like soap.

Some people don’t have that reaction to glycyrrhizin, and so they enjoy licorice.

That said, you can eat too much licorice.

That sweetening compound can deplete your potassium level, which is never good.

So if you do love black licorice, enjoy it responsibly.

Today in 1912 was the birthday of Beverly Cleary.

She wrote some of the best loved children’s books of all time, especially the books about lovably headstrong Ramona Quimby.

In 2008, Portland, Oregon decided to rename the school Cleary had attended after her.

When they asked her if it was ok, she said yes, but asked in a very Ramona-like way whether the school still smelled like a sawdust floor.

The Twisted History of Licorice, the Candy We Love to Hate (Bon Appetit)

Why do so many of us hate black licorice? A few theories (NBC News)

Ramona Would Be Proud, School To Be Named For Cleary (OPB via

Photo by yoppy via Flickr/Creative Commons