Another reason to hate black licorice: FDA says you can ‘overdose’ on it

While some parents might warn their children that stuffing excessive amounts of chocolate and high-fructose-corn-syrup-laden candies into their mouths after trick-or-treating could lead to a stomach ache, the US Food and Drug Administration is going for a different message this Halloween: Don’t go nuts with the black licorice.

According to a video posted by the FDA leading up to the candy-collecting holiday, consuming large amounts of black licorice can be bad for your health. So much so, officials claim, that it required they make a very detailed, animated video, laced with spooky theme music, to hammer home the agency’s point.

“As it turns out, you really can overdose on candy — or, more precisely, black licorice,” FDA officials said in a cryptic press release that went out Monday. “Days before the biggest candy-eating holiday of the year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) encourages moderation if you enjoy snacking on the old-fashioned favorite.”


The FDA points to a compound called “glycyrrhizin” as the cause of the problem. According to the experts, glycyrrhizin is derived from licorice root and is used as a sweetening agent.

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But too much of it makes potassium levels in the body crash, leading some people to “experience abnormal heart rhythms, as well as high blood pressure, swelling, lethargy, and congestive heart failure.”

The warning about such irregularities stems from an incident reported to the FDA last year, when the agency learned “a black licorice aficionado” had “a problem after eating the candy.”

Health problems caused by licorice seems to mostly impact people in their 40s, according to the press release, but the FDA warns “no matter what your age, don’t eat large amounts of black licorice at one time.”

The black licorice you might find in a Halloween candy bag may also not contain the evil compound that the FDA is warning people about.


“Products manufactured in the United States do not contain any licorice,” the agency wrote. “Instead, they contain anise oil, which has the same smell and taste.”

The cautionary tale about licorice-related problems seemed to be news to those in the candy industry.

Megan Moynihan, an assistant manager at Sugar Heaven in Somerville, said the store has a few licorice options, but she has personally never heard of the FDA’s claims.

Her take? “With any type of food, if you eat too much of a certain food, you’re probably going to have health problems,” she said. “It’s kind of across of the board.”

Sandy Russo, owner of Lulu’s Sweet Shoppe in the North End, said she was also unaware of such a thing. And she used to sell all kinds of licorice from around the world. She’s also a fan of black licorice herself, and said in the winter time she puts it out for customers who come by and purchase the candy, by the pound in some cases.


“I didn’t hear about that,” she said by telephone. “But we do have customers that are addicted to it.”

Monday’s warning won’t spook her from grabbing some for herself.

“I think if I already had heart problems I may stay away from it,” she said.

Steve Annear can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.