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Chicory: A Plant With Multiple Uses

Chicory

When we think of a non-caffeinated substitute for coffee, chicory is the top replacement that comes to mind. Historically used as a medicinal plant, chicory has various culinary uses that make it a popular plant in recent times as well. Read on to learn more about this health-boosting ingredient.

What is Chicory?

Chicory or Cichorium intybus is a woody, herbaceous plant that belongs to the daisy family. The word “chicory” is most likely to have been derived from the Egyptian word ‘Ctchorium’ which later on became the name of the plant itself. Chicory grows as a weed in temperate regions. In the flowering stage, it has a tough, hairy stem and can grow from 12 to 40 inches tall. Chicory has bright blue, shimmery flowers that usually bloom between July and September. Native to Northern Europe, it is now cultivated worldwide in areas like North America, China, and Australia.

Image Credit: Flickr user Jim Morefield ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

History of Chicory

The use of Chicory dates back nearly 5000 years when Egyptians used this wild plant mainly for medicinal purposes. Some references even mention the use of chicory by Greeks and Romans as a vegetable. Its extensive cultivation in Europe began in the 17th century and has been popular ever since. 

The leaves of the young plants are used as potherbs like spinach, while the leaves of the older plants are consumed like celery. The popularity of chicory rose when the powdered roots were added to enhance the flavor of coffee or tea. Its main use started when it became a popular coffee substitute as it had no caffeine. 

Chicory, however, should be avoided by people who are allergic to marigolds, ragweed, or daisies. It should also be avoided by pregnant women as it can increase the risk of miscarriages. 

Image Credit: Flickr user Macleay Grass Man ( CC BY 2.0 )

What Does Chicory Taste Like?

Chicory root has an intense woody taste which is somewhat similar to coffee beans. The leaves on the other hand are quite bitter. 

Chicory Medicinal Uses

The leaves and roots of the chicory plant are dried and grounded to be used in various medicines. It is rich in inulin, beta-carotene, and various aromatic compounds. Chicory aids in liver/heart health and decreases inflammation/swelling in the body. Moreover, it increases bile production, lowers cholesterol, and is a mild laxative which is backed up by various studies. 

Culinary Uses of Chicory

Chicory leaves are bitter greens that are packed with minerals like magnesium and potassium. They can be incorporated into different salads, soups, and pasta dishes for added nutrition. The combination of these leaves goes well with chicken, ham, and shrimp. Try to swap chicory greens for kale, spinach, and other hearty greens in one of our nutrition-packed recipes: 

Cod with Kale and Beans

Sausage, Beans, and Greens

Harvest Bowls

Image Credit: Flickr user mental.masala ( CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 )

Chicory roots can also be substituted for carrots and parsnips for a multitude of dishes. Chicory syrup is also used as a salad dressing. Moreover, pickled chicory flowers are also eaten in some areas. The chicory root powder is an excellent substitute for coffee especially for people who are looking for a healthier alternative. 

Feature Image: TheOtherKev from Pixabay 

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