The infamous Dutch drop: some salivate at the thought of it, while others wince and pucker. Dutchies love it, but for those not accustomed it can be a real shock to the system. 

Opinions of drop tend to be black and white, but the liquorice itself comes in all colours and flavours. Many are even delicious, fruity, and sweet, so it’s absolutely worth doing a bit of experimenting. But how is one to differentiate the sweet from the salty, the delight from the anguish? 

Drop is everywhere in the Netherlands. You’ll see infinite varieties of it on the shelves in any grocery or candy store, even in pharmacies. It’s innocently mixed in with the other gummi candies we all know and love, only some of this stuff is far from innocent. The salty drop can leave even the most adventurous eater bewildered and spitting

But as horrifying as some varieties can be, others are a true delight. It would be a shame to miss out on drop altogether for fear of a few zesty mouthfuls, so use this guide to courageously ease into the weird world of Dutch drop.

So what makes drop unique?

Dutch drop is essentially black liquorice, though it’s done quite a bit of shape-shifting over the years. What makes it so interesting is its immense variety it can be sweet and chewy, or hard and burning; a delicious treat, or an assault (‘a-salt’) on your palate.

The salty liquorice you probably associate with the Dutch is flavoured with a very special ingredient called salmiak. It’s ammonium chloride (mmm… ). The chemical adds bitterness and astringency to the candy and is harmless when used in a small, food-grade amount. 

Now, this salmiak is the definition of the term ‘an acquired taste’. Plenty of people who love liquorice may never come around to it. In the absence of ammonium chloride, though, the traditional drop is just good old fashioned black liquorice. Nowadays, that liquorice is often mixed with other milder, fruitier flavours, and appeals to a much wider audience. 

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A brief history

The Dutch acquired the unique taste for salmiak liquorice long ago (along with the other Northern European countries). The candy, and salmiak in general, used to be sold in pharmacies as cough medicine. Salmiak pastilles, which have a higher concentration of ammonium chloride, are still considered a traditional medicine to assist in the loosening of the airways. 

Liquorice itself is the root of Glycyrrhiza glabra, which has been used medicinally for over 4,000 years. The throat comforting properties and natural sweetness of the liquorice makes it a perfect accomplice for the abrasive salmiak. In the 13th century, salmiak drop had become the go-to remedy for a sore throat, and many other minor ailments (like the paracetamol of yore).

For reasons incomprehensible to the rest of the world, people got hooked on the sharp chemical flavour of the medicine. By the 1930s, salmiak liquorice had become a regular Dutch household treat. Even today, Dutch people will suck on drop when they have a sore throat.

Drop categories

Dutch drop comes in all shapes and sizes. There’s a vast range of flavours and textures, so it’s important to know what you’re getting. Most drop can fit into the four categories of: soft and sweet; hard and sweet; soft and salty; or, hard and salty. 

In Dutch, zout (salt) and zoet (sweet) might sound similar coming off the tongue, but going on the tongue there’s an alarming difference. To spare you the pain of having to learn the hard way, here are some of the more popular varieties you’re likely to come across:

Soft and sweet

These are the furthest escape from traditional drop, making them the most palatable to those who don’t fancy the salty black stuff. 

Autodrop

Cars and trucks. These are an excellent gateway drop. The mix often contains some pieces of just fruit or cola flavoured candy.

autodrop-candy
The easygoing autodrop. Image: Brin Andrews/Supplied
Apekoppen

Monkey heads are soft and sweet, a rather far and welcome departure from the salty original.

Fruit Duos 

50% wine gum, 50% liquorice, 100% enjoyable. For the liquorice-leary, these can bridge the gap between comfort zone and adventure. 

Drop Revolver 

Shaped like the barrel of a gun, these are less dangerous than their look might lead you to believe.

Kritzli

This cylindrical liquorice usually has a soft fruity filling, though sometimes you’ll find caramel, mint, or other varieties.

Allsorts

Also known as Engelse drop, these are a mix of shapes with pastels. They have a bit of an acquired texture but are nonetheless delicious.

engels-drop-liquorice
They may be called English drop, but they’re everywhere in the Netherlands. Image: Shirly810/Pixabay

Hard and sweet

These sweet treats will keep you chewing. They might be hard on the jaw but they’re much easier on the palate, that is, if you like the flavour of liquorice.

Kleurendrop

Small, multi-coloured, candy-coated drop. Crispy outside, chewy inside, entirely painless.

Honingdrop

Honey flavoured, shaped like a beehive. Less of a liquorice flavour, but still among the classics.

Katjes

Hard, chewy black cats — a super classic toothsome treat.

Katjes-liquorice
They’re purrfectly palatable. Image: Raimond Spekking/Wikimedia Commons/CC4.0
Menthol Kruisdrop

Square-shaped with a first-aid sign. Quite medicinal tasting but still passes as candy.

Schoolkrijt 

Black or white, and looks like chalk. Nice and chewy, really somewhere between soft and hard.

Soft and salty

Trepidation is only natural in this category. But the plus side to the softer salmiak varieties is that they require less chewing so you can get the experience over with more quickly. 

Griotten 

Light brown salty-sweet blocks. They may look like sugar cubes, but don’t be fooled. 

Griotten-Dutch-drop
Plop one of these into your coffee and you’ll be in for a spongy surprise. Image: Tubantia/Wikimedia Commons/CC3.0
TV Pastilles

These old-timey pill-shaped salmiak tablets look more like medicine, and they taste like it too. They should probably require a prescription.

Zakkenrollers

‘Pickpockets’, in Dutch. A bitter assortment of keys, watches, cell phones, and more. It’s salmiak liquorice with an extra salt coating. About as aggressive as an actual hold-up.

Salmiakrondo

A liquorice ball with chewy salmiak inside. Fantastic texture but terribly burney.

Salmiakrondos-drop-liquorice
Begging to be bitten. But beware… Image: Tiia Monto/Wikimedia Commons/ CC3.0

Hard and salty

It’s hard work eating Dutch drop in its most traditional hard and salty form. Not only does it burn the mouth but it also exhausts the jaw — that is, if you can manage not to spit it out (good luck).

Dubbel zoute 

The most pungent of all, these are most commonly coin or diamond-shaped. They’re often stamped with a DZ, so you can’t say they didn’t warn you. 

Dutch drop-zoute-salmiak
What’s hard, salty, burns your mouth, and ignites your nostrils? Dutch candy. Image: Mundo/Creative Commons/CC2.0
Oceaandrop 

Various ocean creatures like seashells and seahorses. They might look friendly but they’re as salty as the sea. 

Tikkels

Hard on the outside but soft inside (also available in non-salmiak varieties). Like weird little jelly beans, they’re nobody’s favourite, but everybody’s familiar.

Mintnopjes

Minty candy coating on the outside with a sharp, chewy salmiak centre. Looking festive in red and white, like an ill-intentioned holiday prank.

Laurierdrop

Hard and salty with menthol for an additional level of discomfort. Usually, coin or rectangular-shaped, and imprinted with a Laurier leaf. 

Have you tired Dutch drop? Do you fall on the love or hate side of the spectrum? Let us know your burning thoughts in the comments below! 

Feature Image: DutchReview/Canva

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