The chicory herb is yet another plant that has been in use since ancient times. It was used in ancient Egypt and has been mentioned in texts dating back to 4,000 BC. In that era, this relative of the endive was grown for its seeds. The ancient Egyptians used the seeds as a digestive aid. It was even mentioned by Horace, who included it as a part of his diet. The herb was used by the Romans who ate it in salads.
As coffee was becoming popular in Europe in the 17th century, it was discovered that it could be improved with the addition of chicory root. By the time the French Revolution rolled around, chicory had become as popular as coffee.
The herb was brought to North America in the 18th century and now can be found all over the United States.
Chicory flavor profile
Chicory greens are similar in flavor to dandelion greens and can be sautéed with olive oil and garlic which helps eliminate some of the bitterness it has when eaten raw. Note that boiling chicory greens requires that the water be changed several times. When the herb is used raw in salads, its flavor is mildly bitter and similar to radicchio. Both the flowers and the greens are edible; the flowers are often used to garnish salads.
Chicory root is similar in appearance to the taproot seen in dandelions. Before it can be added to coffee or used as an alternative, the root has to be roasted and ground. Chicory is said to enhance the flavor of coffee, giving it a fuller flavor. Coffee with chicory has more intense roasted flavor and a little extra bitterness.
Benefits of chicory
Both the greens and the roots of chicory have numerous health benefits due to the nutritional compounds they contain, which include:
- Folic acid: Folic acid is important for the formation of red blood cells and the body uses it to synthesize DNA.
- Potassium: This element is important for the contraction of the heart muscle and for transmitting nerve impulses.
- Inulin: Roasted chicory root is a good source of inulin; in fact, the extract of dried chicory root contains about 98 percent inulin by weight. Inulin is a prebiotic that is important for the immune system and that encourages the growth of probiotics. Probiotics help to prevent imbalances in gut flora. Inulin also helps to prevent constipation. Inulin is beneficial for more than just your digestive system, as it has been shown to reduce bad cholesterol. This means that it can be helpful for reducing the risk of strokes and heart attacks. Studies have also shown that it increases the amount of HDL, which is the good cholesterol. In addition to these benefits, it is said to lower blood sugar thus lowering the risk of diabetes.
Common uses for chicory
Chicory is one of the main ingredients in a popular French and Belgian winter salad. The ground roots are sold to be added to coffee or in coffee blends. In the US, chicory coffee is especially popular in Louisiana due to the French roots of many in that part of the country.