Drop: Medicine, Taste, and Identity

Liquorice,  drop in Dutch,  is seen as part of Dutch national identity. But why? Liquorice is eaten elsewhere too, and the liquorice plant, Glycyrrhiza glabra, the roots of which are the ingredient that gives the eponymous candy its distinctive taste, is not indigenous to northwestern Europe. It was probably first introduced as an ingredient for cough medicines in the Low Countries in the Middle Ages. This raises the question how a foodstuff of which the distinctive ingredient has no clear geographical connection to the country that identifies with it could become part of its national identity. When did it become more of a candy than a medicine? Why and when did it become so popular? How did the taste of drop change over the centuries? How do physiological tastes become cultural tastes?

In this project I demonstrate that tracing how a specific foodstuff or taste shapes and becomes part of the collective identity of a nation state can give us new insights in the complex factors at play in such political and emotional processes, as well as in the role of science. The project explores the history of the interlinked development of (understandings of) the taste of drop through medicine and pharmacy to iconic candy in the Low Countries, and its influences on individual and collective bodies and identities. The drop project is part of my work at NL-Lab, a Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences research group studying Dutch culture and identity past and present.

As part of this project, I am working with Ruitenberg Basiqs food technologist Sander Runia on remaking eighteenth-century drop recipes.

Making drop, August 2020