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.
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.
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.
Cars and trucks. These are an excellent gateway drop. The mix often contains some pieces of just fruit or cola flavoured candy.
Monkey heads are soft and sweet, a rather far and welcome departure from the salty original.
50% wine gum, 50% liquorice, 100% enjoyable. For the liquorice-leary, these can bridge the gap between comfort zone and adventure.
Shaped like the barrel of a gun, these are less dangerous than their look might lead you to believe.
This cylindrical liquorice usually has a soft fruity filling, though sometimes you’ll find caramel, mint, or other varieties.
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.
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.
Small, multi-coloured, candy-coated drop. Crispy outside, chewy inside, entirely painless.
Honey flavoured, shaped like a beehive. Less of a liquorice flavour, but still among the classics.
Hard, chewy black cats — a super classic toothsome treat.
Square-shaped with a first-aid sign. Quite medicinal tasting but still passes as candy.
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.
Light brown salty-sweet blocks. They may look like sugar cubes, but don’t be fooled.
These old-timey pill-shaped salmiak tablets look more like medicine, and they taste like it too. They should probably require a prescription.
‘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.
A liquorice ball with chewy salmiak inside. Fantastic texture but terribly burney.
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).
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.
Various ocean creatures like seashells and seahorses. They might look friendly but they’re as salty as the sea.
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.
Minty candy coating on the outside with a sharp, chewy salmiak centre. Looking festive in red and white, like an ill-intentioned holiday prank.
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
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in October 2020, and was fully updated in January 2021 for your reading pleasure.