Black licorice warnings & tips for safe Halloween celebrations

By Pat Brinkman - OSU Extension

I heard that eating too much black licorice can cause heart problems. Is that true?

In some cases, for some people, yes.

With Halloween coming in a couple of weeks and candy sales up 13% this year as compared to this same time last year, according to the National Confectioners Association, it’s a good time to revisit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s warning regarding black licorice.

The FDA warns that people over 40 who eat two ounces of black licorice a day for at least two weeks could experience an irregular heart rhythm or arrhythmia that could land them in the hospital.

As mentioned in a previous Chow Line, black licorice contains glycyrrhizin, which is the sweetening compound derived from licorice root. The problem is that glycyrrhizin can cause potassium levels in the body to fall, causing some people to experience abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, swelling, lethargy, and congestive heart failure, the FDA said in its advisory.

The issue is primarily a concern for people over 40, some of whom have had a history of heart disease and/or high blood pressure, according to the FDA. The agency said that potassium levels are usually restored in people with no permanent health problems once the person stops eating black licorice.

So, if you like eating black licorice, it’s best that you don’t eat large amounts of it at one time—regardless of how old you are, the FDA says.

The FDA also advises that people who experience irregular heart rhythms or muscle weakness should stop eating black licorice immediately and contact their doctor. Lastly, it’s important to know that black licorice can interact with some medications and dietary supplements, so talk to your pharmacist or doctor to be sure none of the medications you take could be impacted.

It’s also important to note that with Halloween right around the corner—occurring this year for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic—there are measures to take to help you safely celebrate the fall holiday.

Already, a Morning Consult poll found that 80% of people believe that they will find creative and safe ways to celebrate the Halloween season this year. Meanwhile, 80% of the general public and 90% of millennial moms and young parents who participated in a recent Harris Poll, say they can’t imagine Halloween without chocolate and candy, and that trick-or-treating is irreplaceable.

Here are some questions the Cleveland Clinic advises parents to consider if you plan to have your children participate in trick-or-treating:

How will your child maintain social distance from others?

How many houses will they be allowed to visit?

How will you help your child keep their hands clean and not touch their face?

If you’d rather avoid the Beggar’s Night tradition of going door-to-door for candy, here are some other creative celebration options from the Cleveland Clinic:

Decorate or carve pumpkins at home.

Set up a piñata for your kids in the backyard.

Watch a scary movie.

Create a candy or festive scavenger hunt at home.

Host or attend a virtual Halloween party and costume contest.

If you do choose to participate in trick-or-treat with your kids, you are advised to wear a proper face mask that covers your mouth and nose, has multiple layers, and ties around the ears or back of your head. (Author: Turner, T. (2020). Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.)

Pat Brinkman is the Family and Consumer Sciences Educator for Ohio State University Extension Fayette County.

By Pat Brinkman

OSU Extension