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?"
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.
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.