On Glycyrrhizin.

Botanical name: 

By JOSEPH M. HIRSH, of Chicago.

What is the easiest and most practicable method of isolating glycyrrhizin; to what extent does it possess the power of masking bitterness; and what is its mode of action?

The mode of preparing glycyrrhizin, mentioned in the last Dispensatory, of precipitating the same from a cold infusion, I found highly impractical, on account of the slight solubility of the same in cold water. Berzelius's method of preparing it from sulphate of glycyrrhizin gave but a dark-colored product, difficult to purify, while Vogel's method of preparing a plumbate of glycyrrhizin, and subsequent decomposition with hydric sulphuret, is rather laborious. The best practical process appeared to be the preparation from an infusion made with boiling water of acetate of glycyrrhizin, which upon evaporation to dryness is dissolved in alcohol, when the acetic acid is neutralized with soda, the new salt crystallizing out, while the glycyrrhizin remains in solution. Another method, giving good results, I found to be the preparation of an alcoholic extract by percolation, which I heated to the boiling-point, filtered off from the deposit produced, when I evaporated nearly to dryness, redissolved in alcohol, from which solution it remained behind almost pure upon evaporation.

Experimenting with this product in regard to its relation to masking bitterness, I found one part to cover up the bitter taste of four parts of Epsom salts, a slight addition of the latter being plainly perceptible, although by no means as disagreeable as when tasted alone. Of an alcoholic extract of coffee, an amount representing twenty parts of coffee, lost its bitter taste upon the addition of the glycyrrhizin. A number of other experiments of similar kind were made, but your reporter respectfully expresses his doubts about the mathematical reliability of results, arrived at by taste alone, and confines, therefore, his remarks to the modus operandi of the glycyrrhizin.

Taste being an effect upon the nerves of sensation (of taste), the change of taste can be produced either by a chemical change of a substance, or by a peculiar local affection of the nerves of taste. The first case, as might have been anticipated, with Epsom salts, does not occur, the glycyrrhizin not affecting the sulphate of magnesia in any way.

The second supposition then lay near, namely, that the nerves were rendered insensible to the bitter taste. This might be done by an organic change of nerve-matter, or by the interposition of a foreign body between the nerves and the bitter substance. To ascertain the former lay beyond the facility of your reporter, and I made, therefore, the best of the last supposition, which seems to give a true solution of the problem. When glycyrrhizin or liquorice, dissolves upon the tongue, the latter soon becomes furred, coated, this coat being a coagulum of the albumen of the saliva with the glycyrrhizin. A few tests convinced me that even a weak solution of albumen coagulates readily with glycyrrhizin, and I took the artificial coating of the nerves produced by the albuminous coagulum of glycyrrhizin to be the true cause of its masking bitterness. If this was true, other substances, which readily coagulate albumen, should produce the same result.

With this idea I tried a solution of carbolic acid with various bitter substances, and in each case the bitterness was annihilated if the quantity of carbolic solution was sufficient. But while glycyrrhizin and its compounds are sweet, this is not the case with carbolic acid, the taste of which replaced that of the bitter substance with which it was mixed, this taste being in itself not agreeable. To remedy this evil carbolate of glycerin was tried with marked success. Epsom salts, coffee, absinthe, &c., lost their bitter taste when mixed with a sufficiency of carbolic glycerin.—Proc. Amer. Pharm. Assoc., 1870.

The American Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. XLIII, 1871, was edited by William Procter, Jr. (Issues 1-4) and John M. Maisch (Issues 5-12).