Licorice is an Iceland Specialty: Here is Where to Enjoy it
By Kirsten Harrington
When it comes to licorice, there’s no middle ground. There are believers, like me, who salivate at the mere thought of the strong, dark confection.
And then there are haters who can’t understand why anyone would eat something that looks like tar and makes their eyes water.
Iceland is full of believers. Years of restrictions on imported goods, a harsh climate more suitable to growing things below ground than above, and a need to keep warm are all potential reasons for the bristly licorice root’s popularity.
Licorice Raises Your Blood Pressure
Its strong flavor warms the body, raises blood pressure, and can be steeped to soothe a cough, all welcome properties during the long, dark Icelandic winters.
With limited fresh foods at their disposal, Icelanders found a way to use licorice to flavor just about everything, from butter and baked goods to snaps and coffee.
With so many ways to experience this Nordic favorite in Iceland’s capital city, you might just find yourself changing your mind about licorice.
Valdis Ice Cream
Icelandic people aren’t afraid of the cold. They swim outside in 40-degree temperatures and eat ice cream all year long.
That’s a good thing because it means you can find ice cream shops buzzing with activity in Reykjavik even in winter.
Starting in 2013 with a little shop down by the harbor serving a few basic flavors, Valdis has created over 400 unique flavors served at multiple shops.
Customers flock to the shop in the heart of Reykjavik for the playful baby blue and pink décor and the licorice ice cream.
There are several variations on offer. There’s Chocolate Licorice, luscious chocolate ice cream with subtle licorice undertones, perfect for beginners. Go ahead and ask for a taste.
See, it’s not that scary. If you’re a little more adventurous, go for the Danish Licorice. It’s creamy and sweet, but with more pronounced flavors of black licorice.
If you’re feeling brave (you came to Iceland looking for adventure, right?) order the Salted Licorice. Ever tried Turkish Pepper candy?
It’s the strong, salty, slightly ammoniac licorice that makes your eyes water. Whichever flavor of licorice ice cream you choose at Valdis, you’re sure to find one that will make you a believer.
Frakkastigur 10, www.valdis.is
Ok, maybe you think it’s too cold for ice cream. But you’re not off the hook. How about coffee at a cozy café? A strong, foamy caffe latte is the perfect canvas for adding a dash of flavor. You’ve heard of vanilla, pumpkin, hazelnut, spicy chai and even lavender lattes, so why not licorice? Smooth velvety coffee gets a hint of sweetness from licorice syrup; you can even order it as a mocha because chocolate and licorice are meant to go together. Their amazing latte art makes each espresso drink feel like a gift meant just for you.
With exposed wooden beams and candles on the table, KaffiBrennslan is the perfect cozy spot to take a break from sightseeing and grab a snack. With cocktails, wine and Icelandic beer, you might just decide to stay for happy hour.
Laugavegur 21, www.kaffibrennslan101.is
Braud and Co. Bakery
With a colorful tie-dye-inspired mural and windows filled with beckoning pastries, Braud commands attention. The heavenly aroma of freshly baked bread and cinnamon rolls draws you into this standing-room-only shop, where the goods sell out almost as quickly as they come out of the oven. That’s a good thing because chances are your blueberry salted licorice bun will still be warm and soft in the middle.
You could play it safe and order a croissant or raspberry Danish, but you’re in Iceland, remember? Go for the blueberry salted licorice bun. It’s a cinnamon roll on steroids, with an almond-flavored center, pinkish rings of blueberry sauce, and a crust of salty-sweet licorice on top, unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. Buy two and share one with your licorice-skeptic friend who will soon be converted. It’s that good.
Frakkastigur 16, www.braudogco.is
Omnom Chocolate and Ice Cream Shop
This bean-to-bar chocolate factory near the harbor in Reykjavik was started in 2013 by two childhood friends with a passion for food and experimenting with Iceland’s raw natural ingredients.
Soon they developed artisan chocolate bars incorporating organic cacao with flavors and textures from coffee, sea salt, barley and of course licorice. Try the Lakkris + Raspberry or the Lakkris + Sea Salt chocolate bars or grab a package of Omnom Crunch: licorice and sea salt-covered malt balls. Bet you can’t eat just one.
While you’re in the shop, you can try one of their fantastically named ice cream creations, including the Octopus: soft serve vanilla ice cream topped with salted licorice chocolate fudge, licorice chocolate covered raspberries and extra sour raspberry gummies.
Holmaslod 4, www.omnom.is
Vinberid Gourmet Delicacies
This candy shop in the center of Reykjavik is where I fell under the spell of Lakrids by Bulow, little globes of flavor-wrapped licorice. The company’s founder, Johan Bulow, felt like licorice needed a little more love in his native Denmark, and he wanted to make the whole world fall in love with it.
His plan was to cook the sweets in his shop so that everyone from 100 meters around would smell them and be drawn in. The first batch sold out within two hours. He created a line of gourmet licorice that incorporated passion fruit, chilis, milk, and dark chocolate. There’s even a Nordic version of American-style red licorice and a coffee-chocolate licorice bonbon that’s divine.
You’ll also find 3 Pristur Lakkris, a candy bar combining toffee, licorice, and chocolate. It wasn’t on my radar until the sales clerk pressed a free one in my hand on the way out. I’m not a fan of toffee, but somehow all three flavors combined became so addicting I filled my carry-on with 3 Pristur Lakkris bars in the airport as we left Iceland.
Laugavegur 43, www.Vinberid.is
Loo.Koo.Mas Greek Donuts
Made while you wait, these fried dough balls are crispy on the outside and soft and airy in the center.
How is this Greek dessert going to change your mind about licorice? Well, they come with your choice of toppings. Traditional finishes include honey, cinnamon, sesame, and walnut.
Loo.koo.mas takes it up a notch with toppings such as strawberry syrup, chocolate puffs, salted caramel, and Smarties. And since this is Iceland, of course, there’s licorice.
Order a batch of donuts topped with honey, chocolate or vanilla syrup and finish it with coconut-stuffed licorice candy pieces for a multi-country flavor explosion.
Warm, fried, crunchy, sweet, strong, savory – the flavors all balance each other so well you’ll forget you’re eating licorice.
Laugavegur 30, @loo.koo.mas on IG
Iceland is filled with so many surprises and unexpected delights, from aquamarine-colored geothermal pools to waterfalls you can walk behind.
Licorice, in its many forms, is just another adventure waiting to be savored.
Kirsten Harrington has been a freelance food and travel writer for over 12 years, chronicling adventures in the US and China. Her work has appeared in WhereTraveler, The Seattle Times, Edible Orlando, The Beijinger, and numerous other publications. When she’s not writing, you can find her scoping out new adventures, hiking, or enjoying a meal with her family in Orlando, Florida. Visit her website.