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The properties of chicory

Chicory is one of the most popular leaf vegetables. It belongs to a plant that grows spontaneously throughout Italy with a biennial and annual cycle requiring little of the soil. In the kitchen, obviously, the leaves of the plant are used, although it is also capable of generating flowers. Chicory contains many fibers and mineral salts, such as calcium and phosphorus, as well as several B vitamins and vitamin C. The caloric intake is minimal and stands at 10 kcal per 100 grams. The taste is pleasantly bitter.

Given the enormous fibre and water content, chicory is considered a good diuretic and a mild laxative. Similarly, it has a detoxifying and disinfectant function for the body. In light of these characteristics, chicory essence is also used in cosmetics and herbal medicine (decoctions are particularly effective).

The numerous varieties of chicory

There are numerous varieties of chicory. Below, we list the most consumed ones in Italy.

  • It is the classic chicory, which is characterised by its bitter flavour and bright green leaves.
  • Catalonia. Given its shape, it’s used as a thin, smooth salad leaf. But there’s a hint of bitterness in the flavour. It’s an antioxidant-rich cultivar.
  • Similar to Catalonia, although the leaves are slightly smoother. It is generally cooked before use.
  • It is the most rustic variety, with shades that tend towards red. The leaves are large and jagged, while the flavour is generally bitter. It is harvested mainly in the summer months.

How to use it in the kitchen

Chicory is a very adaptable vegetable because it can be consumed both raw and cooked. Raw chicory adds a slightly bitter taste to salads, where it is typically used. From this point of view, the possible combinations are truly numerous, even daring (for example, with exotic fruit). It can, of course, also be boiled and seasoned with salt and a little oil for a really healthy and light side dish.

Chicory can also be the main ingredient in delicious fillings, such as those that enrich savoury pies. If we shift attention to the other parts of the plant, we find uses that are not exactly widespread but interesting. For example, the root can be roasted, pulverised, and used as a coffee substitute (particularly in wartime). The beverage can be used in the confectionery industry and is delicious despite being bitter. Consequently, it is enhanced by the assortment of chicory recipes shown below.

How is chicory cooked?

Chicory is notable for its adaptability as well. Its soft consistency necessitates little cooking and promotes blending with other components. Chicory can be the star of broths, soups, and veloutés; it can work well with delicately flavoured, rustic legumes to provide a bit of contrast. I suggest a soft and pleasant winter dish that is often made with broad beans and chicory in this regard.

Chicory can also be used to enrich omelettes. If you chop it into little pieces, you can avoid cooking it separately in this situation, which encourages mixing, among other benefits. It can also be the star of inventive recipes, like the lasagna with wild herbs, which is entirely vegetarian but just as filling as the traditional one made with ragù.

Chicory can also be used as a medicinal food. If it is boiled and seasoned with a drizzle of oil, it becomes a light dinner, suitable for those who want to stay fit. It can also be used as a treatment for digestive issues or for people who need to control water retention, swelling in the abdomen, etc.

What is chicory good for?

Chicory is a vegetable and, as such, is very healthy. However, it is especially beneficial in the case of some rather common pathologies or disorders. For example, chicory can be useful in combating anaemia and iron deficiency in general. Let’s be clear: it basically does not contain iron (very minimal in rare cases). However, it is rich in vitamin C—almost as much as citrus fruits—a substance that facilitates iron absorption.

Moreover, chicory helps control, or even lower, stomach swelling and water retention. The reference is to its ability to cleanse, which is attributed to a profusion of compounds that have this property and, most importantly, to its high water content. The same goes for digestive problems, although in this case the fibre content, which is high in almost all vegetables, has a predominant impact.

Finally, chicory is good for those who want to lose weight; in fact, it reduces the feeling of hunger. This is attributed to the extremely low glycemic index and the previously mentioned high fibre content. It satisfies the stomach in a way and consumes very few calories. Moreover, its low glycemic index makes it an ideal diet for people with diabetes.

Who shouldn’t eat chicory?

As we have seen, chicory is a beneficial food. It is not only good, or at least appetising, from an organoleptic point of view, but it benefits the body on multiple levels. However, it may have contraindications, like any other food.

Those suffering from severe ulcers and gastritis should avoid chicory. In fact, chicory has a high level of acidity and a higher-than-average amount of fibre, which could make the situation worse. It should be noted, however, that disorders are only reported following excessive consumption; therefore, a certain balance is necessary to avoid any complications in this regard.

Excessive consumption of chicory could also lead to meteorism. This is a risk associated with the consumption of all vegetables and foods rich in fibre in general.

In general, a correct consumption of cirocia enhances one’s diet, delights the palate, and benefits the body.

What vitamins and nutrients does chicory contain?

I have already discussed chicory’s benefits. But it’s helpful to assess the situation and learn more about the active elements that this remarkable cuisine is made of. As with a few other vegetables, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus are all present in equal amounts.

These compounds have varied effects on blood circulation, teeth and bone health, and the immune system. Considering that the calorie intake does not exceed 23 kcal per 100 grammes, this information is not insignificant.

Furthermore, unlike many other vegetables, chicory is rich in antioxidants. The reference is to inulin, which facilitates digestion. It should also be noted that there is a certain abundance of beta-carotene, responsible for the light green shades, tending towards yellow and orange. Beta-carotene also promotes the absorption of vitamin A, which is vital for skin and vision. Lastly, it suppresses free radicals, delays the ageing process, and lowers the risk of developing cancer because it is an antioxidant.

Beta-carotene is abundant, especially in some varieties of chicory, i.e., the lighter ones. The reference is to Catalonia chicory, which has a very delicate flavour.