Finally Named: ‘Banga Stick’ is Liquorice!

Updated, May 29th with a table, also confirming the name!

For years, I’ve called it banga stick or oburunbebe, as learned from the interwebs. All attempts to find the botanical name drawing blanks. But researchers stay researching – once one, always and forever one. Some skills to being a good researcher are:

Observation: when you notice the details, differentiators, differences, you can ask the right questions to get answers you need.

Enquiry: your mode of enquiry must include traditional sources but also different ways to frame the question which might allow for a wider pool of information – thus answers.


I’ve applied a combination of both observation and panning through research papers and my book of herbs and spices and finally, finally, finally, the mystery of one of two spices/ roots whose names I couldn’t decode hiterto is solved, in part.

I’m beyond happy. And no, I don’t like liquorice – I’m excited about the knowledge I’m building about Nigerian cuisine, which could be transferred beyond our borders.

The Banga stick, known locally by that name but also by Oburunbebe stick is a woody stick with striated bark. It is often used whole or ground into a powder and added to pots of Bangapalm nut soup.


I first came across the botanical name a couple of weeks ago.

Banga wood
Update/ 29th May 2019 – Confirmation of name

At first, I wasn’t convinced it was liquorice because I didn’t see photos that looked like what I had at home.


And then, one evening, I get out my book of herbs and spices, purchased a few years ago and never used.


I begin to thumb through the pages, hopeful and when I happen upon the page, page 303, I know I’m home.


First of all, the sticks look like those in my kitchen and the botanical name: glycyrrhiza glabra is the same as I discovered yesterday. And then the sensory exploration begins.


At first sniff, there is no discernible scent/ aroma/ smell beyond musty… and now I understand why. Aromas are often the result of essential oils in fruit skins, stems, leaves. To preserve the aroma, ‘scented’ herbs and spices should be stored properly – in airtight containers, whether sealed bags or jars. In Nigeria, however, the sticks are often found bundled together with rubber bands in baskets on store shelves, exposed to the world. So, one outcome of this discovery will be advising as many stores as I can how best to store the sticks. Any ideas? Let me know.


On to the next – the taste. I bit off one end of the hardy sticks and got a slight aniseed flavour on my tongue. After living for 4 years in The Netherlands, I know liquorice. I know the sweet, the salty and the double salty. This is definitely liquorice.

It’s so amazing how having a reference aids identification.

After 4 years.


So, here are some facts:

NameDutchzoethout, meaning sweet wood

Mermaid dropjes in a sea

Nigerian namesEwe omisinmisin, Yoruba 

Provenance/ Origin: Middle East and South-east Europe and apparently, Nigeria…

‘A member of the pea and bean family (Leguminosae/Fabaceae), Glycyrrhiza glabra is best known for its use in making liquorice-flavoured confectionery. Its scientific name is taken from the Greek for sweet root (glykys, meaning sweet, and rhiza, meaning root). It is cultivated for its rhizomes (underground stems) that contain the compound glycyrrhizin, which is 50 times sweeter than sugar.’; Source

Uses: in Nigeria, for Banga soup; and as a chewing stick/ natural toothbrush; elsewhere in Europe and America, for confectionery; also a core ingredient in Guinness and the Italian liqueur, sambuco.

Storage: store in an airtight container

Interesting facts: Effective in dealing with/ killing bacteria that could lead to tooth decay and gum disease

Beware: if you have high blood pressure/ are hypertensive, beware – the glycyrrhizic acid could lead to elevated blood pressure

So how did it become an ingredient in Banga soup? I don’t know but there’s a lot we’ve inherited that makes so much sense. Perhaps it was understood to be a preservative, or its notated digestive properties were recognised. Or the immune booster, antibacterial, anti-fungal properties.

Mystery finally solved and I’m beyond chuffed. I can’t wait as we continue to unravel the hidden wonders and knowledge of our cuisine.

Peace, love & spice.


  1. Kitchenbutterfly I want to thank you for this update. But Oburunbebe is not liquorice and I can prove it to the world and research institutions, contact me back on my email for a herbs adventure.

  2. So glad for years I never knew we had licorice, I thought it only grows on the western soil,knowledge indeed is power,thanks for sharing

  3. At this point I’m confused. I’m actually looking for a root called ladies stick and looking for the yoruba name. People said it’s licorice but your description is different. They said it’s sweet and taste like sugar.

  4. Is it possible to get the roots in Nigeria and export abroad? Will it be accepted since we are not really recognized as producers of the root.

      • You can get it even organically only if you are ready to work with our farm in Ogun State Nigeria. We will grow it for you without any chemicals around as we are heritage farmers who cherish the earth to avoid destruction of any form. Our farm is dasyoohfarms_ng on IG and I am a team member.

  5. I LOVE deciphering our Nigerian ingredients. I live in Texas, USA currently and knowing the english name of things makes my life much easier. PRO TIP: Asian markets have most of the ingredients we know and love. If I can’t find something in an African market, I search an Asian one before trying any other type of grocery store.

  6. Thanks so much for the information. I would love to have a copy of the herbs and spice book. Please how do I go about it.

  7. Ma’am, you don’t know what your restlessness has done for me! You are awesome! Spared me the embarrassment of trying to explain to my Imo and Abia family members what what is. I’ve just read that beletientien leaves smell and taste like tarragon, and now, licorice? I think I have one of the seeds indicated in the list of banga ingredients (not sure which it is, but I think it will suffice). Banga soup, here I come! Yes, it is really happening!

  8. I am partly Deltan and I schooled in Delta.Being a lover of herbs,I had already read about Liquorice root but never saw it..But seeing this banga stick in the “Urhobo community” of Delta State,it always did just point my mind to Liquorice root but I was never sure.
    I stumbled upon this article in a search for what banga stick was called.
    I feel so ecstatic,that you have confirmed my thoughts.
    Beautiful work you have going on.

  9. Hello, I like your page. please what’s the common name for liquorice and how do I get it in Plateau state

    • So I wanted to make my own organic pesticide, and one of the ingredient in the recipe says liquorice roots, I knew I had seen you talk about it on Instagram but just to be sure, I googled again and the first thing I’m seeing is your detailed discovery of it. Thank you so much for this article.

  10. Stumbled unto this drop of knowlegde while looking up banga spices and wondering what on earth the oburunbebe stick is, as I am from the north. Thank you for the extensive research.

  11. Really amazing!! Nice work. I have this school project work on home remedies for gastric ulcer and I have been searching for licorice common, vernacular and native name and a more Nigeria like explaination and not the whole sweet flavor extract blablabla i have been seeing on web.💯👍

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