Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What's op with drop?

Oh, how we love our junk food. Candy aisles are stocked with all kinds of colorful goodies, cookie aisles equally so. Yet one of the favorite sweets, for lack of a better word, is an unassuming, rubbery black candy called drop.

Made with an extract from the Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice) plant and a generous amount of salmiak, or ammonium chloride, drop comes in many shapes, sizes and degrees of saltiness, the saltiest* being a small briquette-shaped candy called DubbelZout (twice the salt)

Drop is consumed in large quantities and it is rumored that the average Dutch person nibbles away approximately five pounds a year. Dutch licorice is definitely an acquired taste and seldom liked by non-natives, as noted by an incident in my office not too long ago.

"What's this drop stuff?" my co-worker asked, pointing to a small bag on my desk.

"It's Dutch licorice," I said, squinting at my computer screen. "You won't like it."

"Oh, it's black licorice ! I love black licorice!". Her hand reached for the bag as I pushed it aside.

"It's not the same. Your black licorice is very different from our black licorice".

"No, it's not, it looks just the same. Why can't I try some?"

*sigh*

I handed over a piece of Dutch licorice. Triumphantly, she put it in her mouth and grinned at me. "See? I like it!" Not so fast, I thought, and reached for the waste basket under my desk. And not a second too late, either.

"EWWWWWWW!!!!" It never fails. About ten seconds after they try Dutch licorice, the ammonium taste will hit the buds, with a vengeance. People will pull an ugly face and start looking around desperately for a place to get rid of it. That's when I hold up the trash can, where they gratefully (albeit not gracefully) spit out the contents of their mouth.

"OHMAGAWD!! That is SOOOO gross!! How can you EAT that???" Her eyes open wide, her mouth still reeling from the palatal pummeling it just experienced, she suddenly stopped speaking and glared at me, her eyes narrowing slightly. Was this a prank? Surely, this was a prank!? I could see her thinking. It's hard for others to understand how we can love our drop so much, and I don't even try to explain it anymore. The Icelanders have their hákarl, the Chinese have their stinky tofu, and the Dutch have their licorice. We all love something different!

For as much as we like our sweets, licorice is one of those oddities that makes the Dutch food culture so unique and interesting. Grocery stores, candy stores and even drugstores will have bulk-sized bins with a rich assortment of various licorices to scoop, weigh and take home. Cat shapes, coins, railroad ties, shoe laces, farm animals, buttons......drop comes in so many flavors, shapes and levels of sweet- or saltiness that there's something for everyone.Well......almost everyone.

* I distinctly remember one called Driedubbelzoute drop, although that one is harder to find.  

18 comments:

  1. I am way over the everage a year... just love it. Do I understand correctly that there is another (american) licorice that "they" do like/love? what's the difference, would we Dutch like that too or not?

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  2. Haha, I was actually just going to write about this on my blog, katie-thehungrytraveler.blogspot.com! I'm temporarily living in Maastricht right now (I believe you might be from around that area, no?) and blogging about my experiences, most of which center around food. You should check it out, might be fun for you to read an American's perspective on Dutch culture and cuisine. I've used your site as a resource about Dutch food and it seems as if a lot of our subjects intersect. Give it a look and see and let me know if I'm getting anything horribly wrong :) (By the way, I absolutely hate black licorice, and yet the half fruit-half licorice drops I can actually stand to eat, and even almost like. Weird, huh?)

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  3. I am the only American born member of my immediate family. When I was young, packages from the "tantes" in Holland always included drop and handmade hankerchiefs--neither which was exciting to me. It has to be environment over biology. I never liked coffee, either. Perhaps I am adopted. LOL

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  4. Lien, there are many different varieties of black licorice. The Dutch type is flavored with ammonium chloride, whereas the rest has sodium chloride: the typical drop-flavor is therefore not there. Black licorice in America is just a sweet, rubbery candy with no particular flavor. I'll gladly send you some if you want to try it!

    Katie, thank you for your comment! I hope you are enjoying your stay in Maastricht, what a great city. I'm from the north of Limburg. Stop by here any time you'd like and keep us posted on your food findings. Love the blog!!

    Baker's Daughter, thanks for stopping by! Gotta love those aunties!! They should have sent you some stroopwafels instead :-) Nowadays, licorice is still one of the main items to ship in a care package, hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles) is a close second. Funny how some things never change....You may not like drop or coffee, but you're always welcome here! :-)

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  5. Nicole, this entry made me laugh my socks off. J, being born and raised in the Netherlands, loves his Dutch licorice. I'm from England, and am not too fussed about it. I like the sweeter varieties, but the salt versions are just not me. Many moons ago, before I knew about "salted licorice", I popped one into my mouth and immediately spat it out. I thought the salt crystals were sugar! J laughed so much, he nearly cried.

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  6. Little did I know so many years ago that the tiny bag of "black licorice" was a big test from my Dutch then-boyfriend. Fortunately I love all kinds of drop, from boerderijdrop to dubbelzout, so I passed the test. Now we are preparing for our nth annual Sinterklaas party where we will serve speculaas, pepernoten, banket, and bitterballen to my very American family. Twenty years ago it was hard to find these recipes anywhere in the USA. Thanks for sharing!

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  7. Nicole, you should have grossed her out even more telling het that in Holland there are shops dedicated to selling only drop in tens if not hundreds of varieties. Personally I like the sweeter varieties and menthol drop.

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  8. Oh, Yummmmmmmm, I love drop. I haven't had any real dutch stuff recently but now I want some.

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  9. Nicole< i thought you might enjoy this entry from my now sort of inactive blog, about my relationship with drop:
    http://bananaspeals.blogspot.ca/2008/09/addicted.html
    Seriously, thinking about dutch licorice makes me salivate(as I am doing RIGHT NOW!) and I truly have to avoid that section of any stores that sell it!
    Thanks by the way, for this wonderful blog. My daughter sent me the link to your FB page which lead me here of course. I was born in Rotterdam, immigrated to Canada when I was 5 but stayed close to our Dutch culture and language until I was an adult and married a Canadian. The recipes and your recollections bring back fond memories of a gezellige time in my life!

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  10. Just found your blog looking for pictures of pudding broodjes....my daughter just turned 2 and loves black licorice (and has since she was about 18 months or so when she first found a piece) including the Dubbel zout (and yes it is the real Dutch stuff). She sneaks into the pantry on a regular basis to get a piece and we use it for take off and landings when we fly :-). There must be some genetic component to liking this stuff although my hubby does like it as well and he certainly isn't Dutch (maybe his European roots have something to do with that)

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  11. Speeking of dutch treats ... is there a recipe for haas-a-bloff (sorry ...I do not know the correct spelling) .

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    1. I think you are referrring to the traditional Dutch dessert, Haagse bluf ...

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    2. Anonymous, I don't have a recipe posted yet, but thanks for the tip, will post soon!! Oldjinks is right, the correct spelling is Haagse Bluf, I recognized it in your phonetic spelling, well done!

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    3. I was born in Amsterdam and immigrated with my parents to Canada. I missed dutch licorice so much. My family in Netherlands would send us some every Xmas. I have three children and my first child who is now 50 yrs old is the only one who loves licorice. We now buy it here and still love it so much.

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  12. I'm an American who despises American licorice. WAY too sweet and overall nasty. Do you know of any American stores (even online would be fine) that sell something that doesn't taste like the over-processed sugar-rubber? I refuse to eat American licorice, but Australian licorice was a bit much for me. I have Dutch roots on both sides of my family- wondering if maybe I'm looking for this and not finding it here.

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    1. In case you haven't found anything yet, Cost Plus World Market sells authentic Dutch drop, even "dubbelzout" (extra salty).

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  13. I was at a candy shop with lots of international candies. Got a big mixed bag of various types of dutch licorice. Some of it was actually really good. The DZ though... that took real effort to get down, and I'm not sure I plan on eating any further of that.

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  14. I love it but can't eat it in any quantity as it gives me vertigo. I think the salt makes me retain water and causes swelling in my inner ear. My theory. But right now I'm eating zwartwit pastilles, a gift from my niece. Yum. I'll probably pay for this weakening and giving in to my addiction. I can resist buying drop but if it is in my house, I'm a goner. I think the love of drop is genetic. I'm Dutch, married to an Englishman, one of my children loves it, the other hates it. They both had equal exposure.

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