Your guide to drop: the Dutch take on liquorice

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

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 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 ease into the weird world of Dutch drop courageously.

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, 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 (yum). 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 good old-fashioned black liquorice. Nowadays, that liquorice is often mixed with other milder, fruitier flavours and appeals to a 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 loosening the airways. 

Liquorice itself is the root of Glycyrrhiza glabra, which has been used medicinally for over 4,000 years. The soothing properties and natural sweetness of the liquorice make it a perfect accomplice for the abrasive salmiak. In the 13th century, salmiak drop became 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.

READ MORE | Dutch Quirk #119: Make all their foreign friends try drop

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 fit into the four categories: soft and sweet, hard and sweet, soft and salty, and hard and salty. 

In Dutch, zout (salt) and zoet (sweet) might sound similar coming off the tongue, but there’s an alarming difference on the tongue. 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 the 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 to drop. The mix often contains some pieces of just fruit or cola flavoured candy.

photo-dutch-mild-liquorice-called-autodrop
The easygoing autodrop. Image: Brin Andrews/Supplied

Apekoppen

The so-called Monkey heads are soft and sweet, a rather far and welcome departure from the salty original. 🙈

Fruit Duos 

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

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 (English liquorice), these are a mix of shapes with pastels. They have a bit of an acquired texture but are nonetheless delicious.

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

black-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 it looks like chalk — hence the name. Nice and chewy, really somewhere between soft and hard.

Soft and salty

Trepidation is only natural in this category. The plus side to the softer salmiak varieties is that they require less chewing so that 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

Zakkenrollers translates to “pickpockets” in English. 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. 

photo-dutch-liquorice-on-table
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). They’re like weird little jelly beans. They’re nobody’s favourite, but everybody’s familiar with them.

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. 


So, now you can and explore the world of drop fully informed. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

Have you tired Dutch drop? Do you fall on the love or hate side of the spectrum? Tell us in the comments below! 

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in October 2020 and was fully updated in August 2022 for your reading pleasure.

Feature Image:DutchReview/Canva
Brin Andrews
Brin Andrewshttp://brinandrews.com
Brin is an avid ice cream eater from the US, calling Amsterdam home since early 2019. As a lover of mountains, life below sea level has been a bit of an adjustment, but she manages to stay afloat with long runs, wine, and frequent travel. Incidentally, these are a few of her favourite topics to write about.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Just went for a Dutch candy run today!!! Griotten, TV Pastilles, Double Zout and Zoet powder have been my lifelong favs!!! If your not a Dutch candy lover, good!!! More for us that are!!!

  2. My dad is Dutch and I’ve been snacking on drop since I was a young kid at my oma and opa’s apartment. I love drop, however have almost lost close friends convincing them to try a DZ (double zout) without a fair heads up. Between chocolate and drop I would easily choose drop, the best treat. Nice article!

  3. I first tried DROP after getting off of a tramcar at a market in Amsterdam. There was a barrow with all this black shaped stuff. I asked the seller what is all this stuff? He replied DROP. Luckily he spoke English. He explained it’s Dutch Licorice but the Dutch like theirs SALTY. Luckily he gave me a couple of pieces to taste. The first piece was discusting but I persevered & the 2nd piece wasn’t as bad (in fact it was kinda interesting) so I bought a packet of Drop. The 3rd piece was nice & by the 4th piece I was hooked & adore Drop to this day. If you like the black midget gems you’ll grow to love Dutch DROP Licorice. I do

  4. As a Swede (THE country of licorice candy), I have to say NL does really good licorice candy and other candy. It may partly be because one of the biggest (Swedish) candy companies – Cloetta – owns Red Band any many more. But then again Venco is almost as old as Cloetta.

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