Scorzonera: A Versatile European Root

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Scorzonera hispanica (also known as black salsify) comes from the southern part of Europe, but you can also find it in parts of Western Asia. The hispanica part of its botanical name indicates that it most likely came from Spain, though the first time it was documented was in 16th-century Syria.

The name Scorzonera is believed to have originated with Scorzon, an old French word meaning adder. One of its early applications was as a treatment for snakebites. An alternative explanation for the name is that it may derive from scorza negra, which is Italian. Scorza negra means black bark or peel — scorzonera’s peel is a very dark brown. Other names for scorzonera include the aforementioned black salsify, Spanish salsify, and serpent root.

Along with being considered an effective treatment for snakebite, scorzonera was believed to be effective against bubonic plague up to the 1500s. In the 17th century, scorzonera was a cultivated crop in Italy and France, and would shortly after be grown on a wide scale in Belgium.

These days, Belgium is the main producer of scorzonera; however, it is cultivated in various parts of Africa as well, including Kenya and Tanzania. It is not usually grown on a commercial scale.

Scorzonera flavor profile

The flavor of scorzonera root is often described as being similar to oysters. Young scorzonera leaves are said to taste like spinach when eaten raw and like asparagus when cooked.

Health benefits of scorzonera

You can get many of the nutrients you need for good health from scorzonera. The healthy compounds it contains include:

  • Vitamins: You can get various B vitamins like riboflavin and pyridoxine from a serving of scorzonera. Vitamins C and A are also present.
  • Minerals: Scorzonera is a good source of potassium, calcium and iron.

Scorzonera is versatile as a health supplement. You can use the plant to treat or prevent various health conditions like:

  • Poor gut health: Scorzonera is a great source of a type of fiber called inulin. Inulin is important for reducing harmful gut bacteria.
  • Insufficient hydrochloric acid: Your body uses hydrochloric acid to break down proteins into peptides so that they can be absorbed. Hydrochloric acid is also effective for killing dangerous bacteria in the gut. The production of this important acid decreases as we age. Scorzonera can help to boost it again.
  • Constipation: The inulin in scorzonera helps to make food pass more quickly through the digestive system thus alleviating constipation.

Common uses

Scorzonera is used in Portugal and is most popular in the city of Evora where there are records of it being cultivated 150 years ago. One popular Scorzonera product in this region is a type of sweet made from the root. To make the confection, the scorzonera root is crystallized in sugar and flavored with citrus peels. At one time, this crystallized scorzonera was the dish for which Evora was famous. Scorzonera has plenty of savory applications as well. You can use it in soups or fry it. The leaves are edible and are sometimes used as salad greens.

You can use scorzonera roots to replace coffee. You roast, grind them and then brew them to make a beverage that some people believe tastes like coffee. You can eat scorzonera root raw by grating it into salads like carrots and the flower buds make a great addition to omelets and scrambled eggs.