A Rutgers expert discusses how eating black licorice can affect your health

This week, The New England Journal of Medicine reported that a man with a poor diet died of cardiac arrest after eating a bag-and-a-half of black licorice daily for weeks.

Diane Calello, executive medical director of the New Jersey Poison Control Center, based at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, discusses safe consumption of black licorice.

How safe is it to eat black licorice?

Black licorice is definitely safe to eat in small amounts. The case in the journal involved excessive consumption with very limited diet otherwise. However, it is important to realize that black licorice is more than just candy. It contains glycyrrhizic acid, which can cause swelling and high blood pressure and deplete potassium and other electrolytes that may cause a cardiac arrhythmia or arrest. Glycyrrhizic acid can be found in other foods, such as jelly beans and beverages for flavor.

What is a safe amount to consume?

There is not a specific “safe” amount, but people with high blood pressure or heart or kidney disease should avoid black licorice, which could worsen these conditions. For people over 40, the FDA says that more than two ounces a day for two weeks may be problematic and cause irregular heart rhythm or arrhythmia. People who are on medications or supplements that may be affected by licorice consumption should consult their doctor.  

All foods and beverages should be consumed in moderation. It’s Ok to enjoy an occasional black licorice, but it should not be part of your daily diet, particularly if you have underlying conditions that might be worsened by it. 

Should people be concerned about licorice-flavored food and beverages?

Likely no. Many “licorice” or “licorice flavor” products contain anise oil, which has the same smell and taste but not actual licorice.