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Is black licorice actually dangerous? Lawsuit alleges candy causes heart disease

The lawsuit follows a 2017 warning from the FDA.
Twizzlers Black Licorice
/ Source: TODAY

Many people have a weakness for a certain type candy, but one man is claiming that his affinity for black licorice likely contributed to him getting heart disease — and now he’s suing one of the world's largest candy companies.

David Goldberg, a 73-year-old man from New York City, has filed a lawsuit against the Hershey Company (the parent company of Twizzlers), alleging that although he is an otherwise healthy individual, he was not properly warned about the potential dangers of frequently consuming his favorite candy: black licorice.

The lawsuit states that while Goldberg had been “consuming at least one standard size bag [of black licorice candy] per week” for years, the bags contained no warnings of potential health risks and “that consumption of the black licorice product can lead to heart conditions.”

Black licorice
Black licorice is one of the most divisive candies out there.Shutterstock stock

Goldberg claims in the suit that while he stills suffers from heart issues today, he is otherwise a “healthy individual who is not obese” and “has never had any heart conditions,” according to documents filed in Manhattan's Supreme Court in October.

Though Hershey's products may not contain any visible warnings, in October 2017, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did issue a warning that glycyrrhizin, a naturally occurring ingredient in black licorice, does put older adults at risk for heart issues. At the time, the FDA stated, "If you’re 40 or older, eating 2 ounces of black licorice a day for at least two weeks could land you in the hospital with an irregular heart rhythm or arrhythmia."

The lawsuit blames the Hershey Company for failing to disclose this information to consumers stating, “Defendant knew for years that its black licorice candy posed a health threat,” but did not warn consumers they were putting themselves at risk by buying and eating it.

In 2017, Goldberg was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and put on medication. The suit claims that since his diagnosis, the plaintiff “has stopped eating black licorice, however his condition has not improved."

But is the licorice really to blame here?

"The ingredients are listed on the package so that consumers are aware of what they are putting into their bodies," Emily Clarke, a registered nurse who works at University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, (and has not treated Goldberg) told TODAY Food. "It's our responsibility to research those ingredients, educate ourselves and understand healthy food choices."

In Clarke's opinion, the licorice alone was likely not enough to cause the condition. She added that "one food choice doesn't cause heart disease. It would take a string of poor consumption choices and possibly genetics, along with a handful of other factors about this man's lifestyle."

When reached via email, a representative for Hershey's provided TODAY Food with the following statement: "We are not going to comment on the specific claims as this is pending litigation, but all of our products are safe to eat and formulated in full compliance with FDA regulations, including the agency’s regulation affirming the safety of licorice extract for use in food."

Hershey's black licorice does contain licorice extract, which the company says is derived from a "natural flavor obtained from the root of the licorice plant."

Regardless of health concerns, licorice still remains a divisive candy across social media, with many either loving or hating its pungent anise flavor.

Litigation connecting food to potential health risks continues to make headlines. LaCroix has recently been sued over claims that its "natural" sparkling water contains insecticides and Canada Dry has been sued over its Ginger Ale not actually containing pure ginger root.