Chicory: nutrition facts and health benefits


The chicory is a plant in the chicory family. It has the same name in English and Japanese, but is called “chic” in Belgium and northern France, and witloof in Flemish.

The history of chicory

The term “chicory” was first written in the form of cikoré. It appeared in the 13th century and comes from the medieval Latin cicorea which borrowed it from the classical Latin cichoreum, itself derived from the Greek kikhorion.

First written in the form “individual”, the term “endive” appeared in the French language in the early 14th century. The word is probably borrowed from the Latin intibum, which took it to the Greek entubion, whose meaning is “wild chicory”. In its first sense, it designates the frieze and the Escarole, and in its second sense, the one that is generally used in Quebec – the white shoot of witloof chicory, which may lead to some confusion.

The term “escarole”, which appeared in the 14th century, comes from the Italian scariola who borrowed it from the lower Latin escariola. In French, it has sometimes been written “escarole”. The word refers to chicory with large, low-toothed leaves.

Italian equivalent of “chicory”, the word “radicchio” has a very broad meaning in this language, while in America it designates only red chicory with round apples. Under the influence of the Americans who borrowed it from Italian immigrants, it tends to impose itself everywhere in America. In France, we are talking about “red-leaf chicory”.

The term “Treviso”, which appeared only very recently in the French Language (1984), refers to red chicory with elongated head. The word is borrowed from a city in Italy where this type would have been selected.

From endive to “coffee”: multiple uses

Endive or cichorium endivia comes from Europe, central Russia and Western Asia. Egyptians and Greeks knew this vegetable, as did the Indians, who used its root for medicinal virtues. In Rome, the root and leaves were consumed, and the geese were also fed. In his natural history, written in the first century A.D., Pliny the Elder happily describes the white and red leaves of the radicchio.

The use of endive to produce chicory (chicory witloof), has been known at least since the 14th century. This practice is to cultivate, from the light, the roots already established. This has the effect of alleviating the bitterness of the leaves and making them less fibrous. In the sixteenth century, this technique was applied to many varieties of chicory, both in Italy and in France. In 1830, the Belgians will perfect it and get the white endive in the shape of a cigar which is spread today throughout the Western World. Before the discovery of these methods, salad was consumed only by young leaves, because they are less bitter. The remainder of the plant (large leaves, roots) was intended for medicinal purposes and for breeding animals.

The use of endive root as a coffee substitute dates from the mid-18th century. It was mainly prevalent in the early nineteenth century, with the continental blockade imposed by Napoleon, which deprived Europe of his favorite drink. It was around the same time that the plant (c. intybus) would have been introduced to America. As in the majority of temperate countries, it has become naturalized and became a weed of which one cannot get rid of.

In the 1660 years, a certain Pierre Boucher drew up an inventory of a Canadian garden. Chicory is among the “herbs” that are grown there, next to the sorrel, leek, onion, garlic, hyssop, borage, etc., but not to be learned more about its uses. In 1749, in his description of a garden in Quebec City, the botanist Peter Kalm also mentioned it.

The Italians, in particular, have to the plant an almost religious respect. Many varieties are offered in their shops, in sheets to cut, in apples, or with leaves and stems. There are the tiny grumolos of extreme hardiness, which spend the winter in the soil to form a splendid rose in the spring. The gigantic puntarelle called catalonia, whose leaves resemble those of the dandelion is very popular. The elegant castelfranco (also called “edible flower”) has leaves of a creamy white delicately marked with red spots, the shape of which resembles that of a rose.

Health profile of chicory

According to the variety, chicory has a more or less pronounced bitterness. Red-colored varieties are particularly rich in antioxidants. The chicory comes from a root of chicory grown in total darkness. The root of chicory is well known as a coffee substitute. It is also widely used by the food industry because of its inulin content.

The benefits of Chicory

Blood circulation. A clinical study suggests that daily consumption of 300 ml (just over 1 cup) of chicory root coffee substitute (caffeine-free coffee) could prevent thrombosis and inflammation. These effects are due to the phenolic compounds present in the chicory root. Inulin, also present in the root, would also contribute, in addition to improving the blood lipid profile (cholesterol and triglycerides). However, other studies will have to confirm these assumptions.

Several epidemiological studies have shown high consumption of vegetables and fruit decreases the risk of cardiovascular diseases of some cancers and other maladies chronic diseases. The presence of antioxidants in vegetables and fruits could play a role in this protection.

What does chicory contain?

The radicchio: like blueberry and red wine

Thanks to its red color, radicchio would contain more phenolic compounds than endive or other varieties of chicory. Its antioxidant activity would be similar to that of blueberries and red wine6.

Phenolic compounds

Chicory is an important source of antioxidants. It contains several types of phenolic compounds, mainly flavonoids. The common chicory contains quercetin and kaempferol, while the radicchio contains mainly cyanidin, but also quercetin and luteolin. The consumption of kaempferol-rich foods (such as chicory, broccoli, tea and kale) would increase the concentration of this flavonoid in the bloodstream and provide beneficial effects to the organism.

The different types of chicory also contain phenolic acids. Common chicory contains ferulic and caftarique acids, radicchio contains chlorogenic acid, and endive has predominantly chicoric acid.


Chicory, cooked or not, contains interesting amounts of carotenoids, including lutein and beta-carotene. The consumption of foods rich in carotenoids would be related to a lower risk of suffering from certain cancers. According to more and more studies, high consumption of beta-carotene would also have a protective effect against the development of cardiovascular diseases.

What is common chicory?

Common chicory (cichorium intybus) includes wild chicory, dandelion-like and very bitter, and other similar varieties grown and slightly softer. Radicchio and treviso are also varieties of cichorium intybus, but are not considered common chicory.

Fructans (inulin)

The chicory root contains high amounts of inulin, which is more than 70% of its dry weight. This carbohydrate from the fructans family is present in other foods, such as Jerusalem, garlic, onion, wheat and asparagus. Fructans are not absorbed by the organism, which would give them specific health properties. Studies indicate that this type of carbohydrate would provide a better absorption of some minerals. They would also promote a better blood fats profile, notably by lowering the levels of total cholesterol, “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides in individuals with high blood fats.

The fructans would also contribute to the improvement of intestinal health and would play a potential role in the prevention of certain cancers. Some results suggest that inulin is implicated in reducing risk of colon cancer among humans. Although the properties of fructans are still controversial, they are increasingly being studied among humans. However, other studies will have to be carried out to find out the effects of the usual consumption of chicory.

Although not the main sources of fructans of the North American diet, the roots of chicory and Jerusalem are the most concentrated and most widely used sources of the food industry. These two roots replace the fat in different preparations (frozen desserts, gravies, fruit preparations, etc.), providing them with a creamy texture10. Inulin extracted from the chicory root can be hydrolyzed and transformed into oligofructose, a carbohydrate which is also part of the fructans family.


Vitamin K and anticoagulants

Chicory contains high amounts of vitamin K. This vitamin, necessary among other things to blood coagulation, can be produced by the body in addition to be found in certain foods. People taking anticoagulant medications, for example those marketed under the names Coumadin, Warfilone and Sintrom, must adopt a diet whose vitamin K content is relatively stable from one day to the next. Chicory should therefore be consumed a maximum of 1 times per day and in a maximum quantity of 250 ml (1 cup) each time. It is highly recommended for people under anticoagulation to consult a dietitian/nutritionist or physician to learn about vitamin K food sources and to ensure that the most stable daily intake is possible.


Chicory could be an incriminating food in oral allergy syndrome12. This syndrome is an allergic reaction to certain proteins of various fruits, vegetables and nuts. It affects mainly people with allergies to the pollen of the environment and is characterized by symptoms to the mouth and throat. The oral allergy syndrome is almost always preceded by hay fever.

Thus, when some people allergic to ragweed consume raw chicory (cooking usually degrades allergenic proteins), an immunological reaction may occur. These people feel itching and burning sensations to the mouth, lips and throat. Symptoms may appear and then disappear, usually a few minutes after consuming or touching the food.

In the absence of other symptoms, this reaction is not serious and the consumption of chicory does not have to be avoided systematically. However, it is recommended to consult an allergist to determine the cause of the reactions to plant foods. The latter will be able to assess whether special precautions should be taken.

Choice and conservation


Regardless of the type of chicory, choose firm leaves with spikes are free of browning. Apples must be firm and heavy for their size. Choose preferably relatively large (more than 225 g). If they are small, they have been harvested longer and gradually removed from their outer leaves, which have deteriorated during storage.

The chicory leaves must be well closed and the yellow points. If they are green, it means they have been exposed to light, and they will be more bitter.

Endive, radicchio and escarole are found practically year-round in grocery stores. The frieze is rarer and some types, such as puntarelle, are found only in winter (November to February), especially in specialized shops.


Refrigerator. A week in a perforated bag in the refrigerator drawer. The radicchio and the endive are preserved a little longer than the escarole and the frieze.

Organic gardening

Very tolerant of ph variations, chicory still gives its best yield to a ph of 6.5 or more. It requires fertile, well-drained soil with good water retention capacity.

Since the majority of chicory varieties prefer fresh climates (from 27 °C, the plant may be seeded), they will be grown in the spring or fall. There are some heat-resistant varieties that will preferably be chosen for the months of July and August.

In general, chicory is poorly transplanted. However, for the first harvest, seedlings can still be planted within 6 weeks before transplanting them into the garden. Then we will stick to the direct sowing.

Distance between the plants: 25 cm to 30 cm. Distance between rows: 35 cm to 45 cm.
Sow at regular intervals throughout the season.

As is the case with lettuce and unlike most vegetable plants, it is best to water the chicory often, but only on the surface.

Fatten with good manure, buried in the previous fall, or compost.

Insects: at the end of the season, aphids are to be feared, especially because they are vectors of the mosaic virus, against which there is nothing. Treat with insecticidal soap as soon as they appear. Slugs can also cause problems. Limit their proliferation by putting diatomaceous earth, pieces of eggshell or containers filled with beer at the foot of the plants. Garlic extract has also been shown to be effective against this gastropod as well as chickens and ducks, who love it.

Diseases: the leaf edge blight and root rot can be limited by ensuring the air circulates well between plants and watering frequently, but superficially.

Harvest when the plants are rather a little young than too old. They are less bitter and tender. To prolong the harvest period, cover the plants with a geotextile cloth when it is cold.

Practice a 4-year rotation to reduce the risk of disease.

Grumolos: sow these varieties with small green or red rosettes in the fall to harvest them early in the following spring.

Force chicory to make endive

The chicory to be forced (from Cichorium intybus) is first cultivated on the ground during the beautiful season, following the advice given above. Sow seeds between May 15 and July 1 in temperate climates in a soil not too rich in nitrogen, to prevent this element from developing foliage at the expense of the root. At maturity, the plants are dug up, the leaves cut to about 2.5 cm above the crown and the roots trimmed to 20 cm. They will then be placed for at least 2 weeks in the cooler corner of the refrigerator, in a container filled with wet sand or peat moss.

Then, they are transplanted into soil or wet sand in an obscure place where temperatures range from 13 °C to 21 °C. The leaves are covered with 17 cm to 20 cm of sand or dry soil. After a few weeks, you can harvest your first endive. As plants are not fattened, contrary to what is done for commercial forcing, there is little to be expected of more than two crops per root, after which they have exhausted all their reserves. We can stagger the production, forcing only the quantity we need for 1 or 2 weeks. In the meantime, just keep the other roots in the refrigerator.

Ecology and environment

With a long root capable of pumping soil minerals to a great depth, chicory is an excellent feed for livestock. Adaptable to various types of soils and climates, it allows enhancing pastures by increasing the available biomass. Moreover, thanks to the length of its root, it introduces, at the time of its decay, the organic matter in depth, which has the effect of improving its structure and fertility.


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