Calabria’s black gold
Calabria’s black gold
Long chewy spirals to be eagerly uncoiled and slowly relished. Hard button-like candies in a pretty tin box. Country fairs, parades and balloons. Mentioning licorice awakens childhood memories, and evokes a nostalgic flavor of warm sticky-fingered afternoons in the playground. But, actually, people of all ages indulge in a morsel of licorice now and then, and many adults claim to be addicted to its amazing unique flavor. Some like it pure, some sugar-coated. Some fancy it hard, some soft, others flavored and others again chocolate-covered.
Whatever one’s preferences, high quality licorice is a precious delectable treat to be relished with pleasure. Provided, of course, it is truly excellent, meaning made with select roots from well-groomed plants, caringly processed, cooked slowly, and splendidly presented. To be good, and healthy, it must be a superior product. Like the choice licorice the Italian Amarelli Family has been producing since 1731, for instance. A fine delicacy with a spellbinding legacy and history that licorice-lovers can easily discover visiting the factory’s charming Museum.
The science, and history, behind the licorice plant itself are simply fascinating. Starting from its revealing scientific name, Glycyrrhiza Glabra, derived from the ancient Greek “glucos” – sweet” and “riza” – root. The licorice root’s active ingredient is, in fact, Glycyrrhizin, a unique substance which makes the root sweet. Indeed incredibly sweet: fifty times as sweet as sugar!
Glycyrrhiza Glabra is a lovely green-leaved perennial herb indigenous to southwest Asia and the Mediterranean. Renowned and widely employed for over 2000 years for its long thick roots’ manifold healing properties, it was popular among the Egyptians, Assyrians and Greeks who used it to care for cough and liver disorders, facilitate digestion and treat food poisoning. The licorice plant finally reached Europe thanks to the Dominican friars, experts in medicinal herbs and their therapeutic potential.
So, this is how the fascinating Glycyrrhiza Glabra, with its toothsome roots, made its way to Italy. Southern Italy to be exact, and sun-drenched Calabria particularly, because this leafy plant loves sandy and calcareous well-drained soils, and thrives in dry sunny climates.
The verdant plant flourished undisturbed in the sweeping grounds of the Calabrian estates owned by the local nobility. Near the town of Rossano, the plant bloomed happily, displaying the purple-white and blue-streaked flowers which caught the attention of Baron Amarelli. Perceptive, and somewhat clairvoyant, the Amarellis started grooming the plant, and harvesting its long, thick roots, in the early 1500s.
Inspired by the locally grown root’s amazing flavor, they wisely decided to extract its splendidly sweet juice, and make it into something innovative, exquisite and unique.
Hence they ideated and built a “concio”, a special proto-industrial plant designed to process the root, obtain its syrupy nectar, cook it and mould it into different shapes using bronze drawing machines.
Blending craftsmanship, skill, and rudimental period technology the Amarelli “concio” was the first of its kind to turn raw Glycyrrhiza Glabra roots into fragrant black licorice. And so it was that licorice, glossy black and tantalizing, was born under the Calabrian sun.
Today, Amarelli’s skilled artisans have sophisticated technology and computerized processes to help them. Yet, much is left unchanged: the master licorice maker’s careful supervision, his practice-sharpened eye and final touch are what guarantee a perfect, smooth, thick, superior product and bring Amarelli’s signature Spezzata, Rombetti, Favette, Bianconeri and Sassolini to life.
Over 300 years of successes, a mouthwatering variety of types and qualities of licorice-based specialties, and worldwide recognition make the Amarelli family licorice production an extraordinary example of traditional Italian entrepreneurship, vision and excellence. True to its values, this inspiring family company is a member of the prestigious The Henokiens, a global association open to family companies based on their longevity (minimum 200 years), permanence of duration, and financial health. With its centuries-old tradition and family-focused ideals the Amarelli Company perfectly embodies the philosophy of the Honekin Association, and its aims to support and enhance valuable family businesses which are a vital part of local cultural identity and heritage.
Ever since 1731 the Amarelli family has been making choice Italian licorice, carefully produced within its own factory. Eleven generations of Amarellis have come forth, worked hard and moved on, finding new strategies and inventive solutions to perfect the extraction and processing techniques.
It wasn’t easy, nor straightforward. Through wars, hardship, dramatic times and challenging changes, the Amarellis resisted, firmly believing in their traditional heritage. Throughout three centuries they carried on, creating new licorice specialties with the distinctive visionary Amarelli approach. That very same innovative vision and approach that had allowed Baron Amarelli to focus on his home-grown licorice plants back in the 1500s.
The Giorgio Amarelli Licorice Museum, founded to keep the memory of the family’s traditional legacy, and local heritage alive, is a fabulous place to discover this unique Italian family. Rising within the premises of the historical mansion home to the Amarellis since the late 15th century, it showcases local, Italian and family history via a fascinating exhibit of engravings, documents, photographs and even agricultural tools. A variety of historic vestiges, such as common use objects and antique garments, allow visitors to witness the daily life of a Calabrian family throughout history.
Family stories, work ethic, culture and tradition follow the licorice roots into Calabria’s generous soil, and live on in its people and identity.
For over three centuries Amarelli has provided its discerning customers with an unending selection of richly flavored bonbons, candies and sweetmeats. Soft and hard, pure or sugar-coated. Flavored with mint and anise, or blended with other select ingredients to make nougats, brandies and spirits.
Unique artisan-made products delightfully packaged in colorful parcels and refined metal boxes, decorated with vintage images from the company archives and, recently, enhanced by exclusive new custom-made designs.
The superb licorice-based delicacies devotedly made by eleven generations of Amarellis allow us to taste one of Italy’s quintessential flavors: the gusto of excellence.