© Denzil Green
There is a fair bit of confusion about what Chicory is. All types of Chicory are a member of the Endive family. They can be annual or biennial plants.
After that, the confusion begins.
Chicory as a green leafy veg in its own right
Chicory is a green leafy salad veg. It comes in many different shapes. Catalonian varieties look almost like Dandelion leaves, Milanese varieties look more like Romaine Lettuce, while some Grumulo varieties look like very small Boston Leaf Lettuces.
Belgian Endive is also sometimes called chicory.
Sometimes the curly version of endive is also called chicory by retailers.
The Chicory that is used as a coffee additive or substitute is the dried, powdered root of a chicory variety, different from the salad varieties, which is cultivated more for its large tap roots than it is for its leaves — just as sugar beets are grown for the beets and not their leaves. France and South Africa are large producers; in North America this plant is considered a weed. After harvesting the roots are roasting, which converts the carbohydrates in the root to a caramelized sugar, which makes it brown and gives it a coffee-like flavour. The discarded leaves are very bitter, but they can be fed to animals, or blanched to use as a salad veg. Roots of other varieties of Chicory have been used from time to time, but this is the preferred one.
The variety whose root is roasted produces stalks of flowers, usually blue. It’s Latin name is Cichorium intybus. In North America, it’s become naturalized. The flowers are called “blue sailors.”
Contains calcium, phosphorus, Vitamins B and C. Contains prebiotics, which apparently help stomachs maintain a healthy level of good bacteria.
The Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all grew and ate chicory leaves.
Chicorium Intybus, var. sativum: the variety of chicory grown for its roots. In French, they call it “chicorée à café”;
- Chicorium intybus var. foliosum: the variety of chicory used for forced Chicory;
- Chicorium endivia: other members of the endive family closely related to chicory such as radicchio, etc.
The French tend to call the small, white chicory “endive”.