Oh black licorice. Black licorice is one of those candies like rosewater flavoured Thrills gum; a flavour we either love or we hate. There is no middle ground.
Black licorice has an odd nostalgic connection for my family. My dad's grandfather owned a general store in Council Bluffs, Iowa where he stocked all sorts of sweet treats including an assortments of black licorice - black licorice pipes, jaw breakers, plain old licorice and the favourite, black licorice babies. These candies are just creepy looking.
Given that the fun coloured candy explosion of the 1950's followed the advancements in food refining and processing, thanks largely to machinery and chemicals developed for World War II, I can only assume that black licorice babies had as much food grade petroleum in them back then as they do now.
Food comes from two places: plants and animals. By-products of the fuel industry don't fit into either category. They do give our candies that chewy, stick-to-the-teeth gummyness but aside from being used to gummify our candies, food-grade petroleum is used, primarily for industrial pursuits. Other roles include: a solvent in the extraction of vegetable oils like cottonseed (not a vegetable, not even a food), in the manufacture of soaps, for the preparation of rubber adhesives and can sealing compounds, as an adhesive in the soles of our shoes, in laborities at generation plantsand and as carriers in pharmaceutical drugs.
Food grade petroleum is not food. After seeing what happens when a couple of black licorice babies are set on fire to drive my point home for the stubborn licorice eaters in my family, I am happy to have been half way around the world when an an 'edible oil plant' (same same) exploded in the United Arab Emirites over the weekend.