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Anya’s Licorice is soft and chewy

And bursts with natural flavors

November 5, 2015 | Photo courtesy Anya’s Licorice

File this under “who knew?” Black licorice isn’t flavored with anise or fennel—licorice is a real plant, a shrub that grows wild throughout southern Europe and Asia. Italians like to chew on the roots, which are much sweeter than sugar and can be boiled into a tea that flavors candy. But if you prefer red licorice, as Anya Skwarek does, you’re going to be eating a lot of high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavorings—unless you set out to make your own, as Anya Skwarek did. Anya’s Licorice is the first and only small batch licorice maker in the country—and it’s 150ish’s favorite new treat.
 
Here’s the dish. Anya Skwarek hasn’t added black licorice to her line of flavors yet. “The truth is, I don’t care for it,” she explains. What she set out to replicate and improve upon was the soft and chewy texture of Australian licorice in the fruit flavors that she loves, made with ingredients that she could pronounce.
 
“Licorice may seem like a random choice,” she says, “but I’d have these cravings for the Australian kind, which is only available in, like, 900-calorie bags. So I’d buy the big bag and think ‘this will last me three days,’ and then I’d eat it all in one sitting. I just thought there should be a good licorice product that’s available in a smaller size—and once I got on that train, I asked myself what I would want in a product if I was making it: better ingredients and nothing artificial. Then I thought about putting real fruit in there, and it worked, and that’s where I’m at today.”

Anya is a Connecticut native who first moved to Brooklyn in 2001. After a varied career that included work in pharmaceutical advertising, brand management for Estee Lauder, a wedding cake business, and a manager stint at Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria, the East Village market and café, Anya and her husband moved to London for a while. When they returned, she decided to do something totally new. She launched her licorice line this summer and was an instant Smorgasburg hit.
 
Anya notes that it took a lot—“a lot”—of recipe testing to get the taste and texture right. And that texture really is unique. As she explains, “Australian licorice is called ‘soft eating licorice.’ It’s significantly softer than a Twizzler, but what it also has is better flavor release. It’s just a lot more flavorful because the dryer licorice gets, the worse it transmits flavor.” By using better, and all-natural, ingredients, Anya developed a soft licorice that doesn’t stick to your teeth, a problem that she has with the commercial variety.
 
She also amps up the flavor by adding freeze-dried fruit to the mixture. The licorice is currently available in cherry, strawberry, mango, and raspberry. A ginger licorice has been added, made with real ginger pulp.
 
Working on her own at the Hana Kitchen Culinary Incubator on a top floor at the Industry City complex in Sunset Park Brooklyn (home of winter Smorgasburg), Anya doesn’t wonder that she’s the first to produce a line of artisan licorice. “It’s labor intensive and you need to have a lot of special equipment to make it,” she says. “Stirring the licorice is like an athletic event. You cook it for like two hours and as it cooks it gets thicker and thicker so by the end of cooking it’s like stirring paste, except you’re stirring 25 pounds of it. At the end of a work day, I know I really don’t need to go to the gym the next morning.”
 
Laughing that “the DIY gene runs strong” in her family, Anya says that she’s taking a break from Smorgasburg this winter while she builds her online store and concentrates on gaining new retail accounts. You’ll find her doing frequent in-store demos, which she loves: “Getting direct feedback from customers is great and also when you work by yourself it’s just nice to talk to other people!”
 
As for black licorice, she will add it eventually. “I have my husband trying out a lot of different black licorices so he can develop a palate for it and I’m asking others to try things as well,” she tells us. “I always get a lot of people looking for black licorice at my tastings so I want to have a product for them, too.”
 
For a current list of retailers, visit www.anyaslicorice.com or order online from By Brooklyn.
 
Anya will be doing tastings on November 6 from 1:00 to 4:00 at Chelsea Market, and on November 9 from 6:00 to 8:30 at Urban Market of Williamsburg.
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