Dutch Salt Licorice Is Unusually Tasty (Emphasis on "Unusual")
The Guilty Pleasure: Dutch salt licorice
Where to Get It: Grocers with extensive European imports; I get mine at Lee Lee
Price: Varies, about $3 to $5 for a shareable bag
What It Really Costs: Raised eyebrows from your friends.
I have more than a bit of a soft spot for international candy. A trip to the sweets aisle in a shop that sells foreign foods is a great way to explore a slice of world culture without leaving town. For example, Britons have chocolate bars that actually taste like chocolate instead of the grainy sweetened wax that Hershey's has been trying to pass off as chocolate for years.
I have a tendency to play favorites. My wallet gets nervous when I see the wild array of gummy candy at Japanese grocers, for example. But my biggest thrill in world sweets is drop (it rhymes with rope), the unusual black licorice favored by the Dutch.
Regular black licorice is a hard sell for most Americans. Dutch salt licorice is like black licorice squared. It's less sweet because there's salt in there. The salt in question isn't regular table salt; it's a different salt called sal ammoniac, or ammonium chloride.
The flavor of ammonium chloride is unique, to say the least. It's astringent, a little tongue-tingling, with a little bit of a metallic note. Scandinavians and Dutch folks are innately wild for the flavor. For your average American, it's going to be an acquired taste at best. If you already enjoy assertively flavored European things like Campari or absinthe, you're well on your way to enjoying Dutch salt licorice.
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There are four different basic varieties of drop. Each variety is a combination of two choices. You can get it soft or hard (zacht, or hard if you're Dutch), and sweet or salty (zoet or zout, respectively). The soft is about the consistency of your average black licorice, while hard has a firm but chewy texture akin to stale Dots candies. As for sweet versus salty, think of it more as a little salty or quite salty indeed. Especially hardcore drop fans can also find double-salt varieties.
The one drawback of drop is that it's quite difficult to find. Your average mall candy store won't bother stocking it. You have to go somewhere that specializes in world food. I'm glad that the folks that run the Asian grocery superstore Lee Lee happen to have a Dutch aisle, because it means I have a steady supply of my favorite weird treat.