Chicory is a Mediterranean herbaceous plant, mostly with blue flowers and rarely with pink or white. Its leaves, buds, and roots are used for many different uses. The leaves, also known as chicory greens, are traditionally used in salads and they’re known for their bitter flavor.
Moreover, the plant is native to Europe, North Africa, and Asia. In fact, an ancient Rome dish called “puntarelle” was made with the sprouts of chicory. At first, it was described in the 17th century as a cultivated plant. But, when coffee was introduced to Europe, the Dutch came up with the idea that chicory will make a good addition to the beverage, until eventually, chicory became a replacement to it.
Species: C. intybus
Binomial Name: Cichorium intybus L.
Chicory Greens Trivia
- The roots of the chicory plant have been used as a coffee alternative and additive since the 19th century. Though they taste like coffee, they’re naturally caffeine-free.
- Each flower of chicory only lasts a day and they can only be seen throughout the sunny days between July to October.
- Wild chicory is a vital food source for turkey, quail, and deer.
Chicory Greens Buying Guide
Chicory greens are easy to find in the market. They look like looseleaf lettuce or Dandelion leaves but they are more bitter and have earthier flavor. Chicories also have varieties and you’ll find them below. In the meantime, here are some general guidelines on how to choose the best quality ones:
- Chicory greens have white or pale green core with medium-dark tips.
- Chicory greens averages about 6 to 12 inches long, though shorter, young, and tender leaves are preferred over the longer and older ones. The highest grade of chicory bud (Chicon) has the size of at least an inch thick and 4 ½ inches long.
- The leaves should be firm, vibrant, and crisp. Avoid the ones that are starting to wilt or have wilted and dry. Furthermore, discard the ones that have yellow or brown spots.
- Check out for the tip burn. These are tan-colored spots that form around the leaf’s margins. This slight discoloration actually doesn’t hurt the chicory’s quality, but it should still be avoided as it’s an indication that the leaves will have a lesser shelf life.
- If possible, buy organic chicory greens. Organic ones might not be as perfectly shaped as the conventional or GMO ones, but they’re sweeter and more nutritious. Not to mention that they’re kinder to the planet too.
- As always, chicories from farmers’ markets are better than the ones in stores. Here, the products are usually organic and you’ll be able to meet and help your community. You’ll also get the chance to know more about the other greens that might suit your needs!
Varieties of Chicory Greens:
- Chioggia Radicchio – A small, white, and soft magenta cabbage-looking radicchio.
- Belgian Endive or Witloof – A popular winter vegetable in Europe, especially in Italy, it is best described as a young chicory with a small, 10 to 12 cm long, tightly-packed, oblong head with cream-colored leaves.
- Red Belgian Endive – Similar to Belgian endive but with strong magenta and white leaves.
- Curly Endive or Frisée – An endive with light yellow-green head, whitish or reddish ribs, and green frizzy leaves. It is relatively bitter. It is commonly eaten as a salad vegetable.
- Escarole or Broadleaf Endive – A chicory with Boston or butterhead lettuce-looking head and a broad, paler, less twisted leaves. It’s less bitter than curly endive. It is commonly eaten as a salad, but it can also be sautéed or chopped and added into soups and stews.
- Speckled Radicchio – A cross between escarole and radicchio with beautifully speckled, delicate leaves.
- Treviso Radicchio – Its color and taste resembles Chioggia radicchio, except it grows in longer looser-leafed heads.
- Castelfranco Radicchio – Radicchio with magenta-speckled, creamy-white, and delicate-tasting leaves.
- Catalogna Brindisina-Puntarelle – Also known as Cicoria di Catalogna or Cicoria asparago. It’s also popular in Italy for its frilly, elongated heads, pale ribs, and dandelion-shaped leaves. It has a very appealing bitter taste.
- Sugar Leaf Chicory – Offers lettuce-like leaves that fold into a compact head. Although there’s the word “sugar” in its name, this chicory has a bitter-tasting leaves. However, it becomes milder when blanched.
Chicory Greens Production & Farming in Texas
Chicories are perennial herbaceous plants that are grown just like lettuces. In Texas, the seeds are usually sown in the garden during the early spring, when the danger of frost is done, and the leaves are ready for harvest in the next 60 days. When they are roughly ten inches long, they are usually blanched by clipping the leaves together. Then, the roots are stacked back in the field. As soon as they start to get exposure to cold, the roots are planted upright in a moist, well-drained sand while keeping the air temperature close to 64 degrees so that the plant will be forced to grow a new head.
Conventional or organically grown, fruits and vegetables are essential components of a healthy diet. However, many of these contain potentially harmful pesticides, even after thorough washing, peeling, or scrubbing. Thus, what we can only do is to be aware of which items are the most or least contaminated.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an American group that focuses on the advocacy of agricultural subsidies, pollutants, and toxic chemicals. They have created the Dirty Dozen List, which is being updated each year to rank fruits and vegetables that contain the highest pesticide contamination based on the samples tested by the USDA and FDA.
Generally speaking, leafy greens are susceptible to pests. That’s why they are often grown with high amounts of pesticides. And, it’s not something that can just be washed away with water. Even after a thorough cleaning, residues remain on the crop.
There are more than 50 pesticides used on Chicory in California. The top ones include Trifluralin, Permethrin, Spinetoram, Methyl soyate, and Azadirachtin. Though there are a lot more, most of them are used to treat sap-sucking insects called aphids.
Chicory is a perennial plant that is native to Europe and was then introduced to the United States in the 19th century. Today, France is the largest producer worldwide, followed by Belgium. The plant is now extensively cultivated in Germany, the Netherlands, and in North America as well.
Chicory greens come in loose plastic or cellophane bags, or containers. These are packaged and priced by the bundle or by weight. But, if you’re planning to buy on wholesale, go to your nearest local producer, and you can get these greens in bushels, cartons, and even crates.
Enjoying Chicory Greens
Chicory is perhaps one of the most useful crops in the world as every part of it has its own purpose. The plant itself is used as a fodder for cattle. Its roots are popular to be roasted and ground and act as a coffee replacement, especially in the city of New Orleans. It can also be used as a sweetener for it contains the polysaccharide inulin. Meanwhile, chicory greens are traditionally eaten as a vegetable or salad. They provide a unique crunch along with a mild bitterness. Because of that, they are best to be paired with soft, rich cheeses like Camembert or Brie, along with full-bodied nuts, fruits, and beverages.
Like the other leafy greens, chicory greens are best kept unwashed in a loose bag lined with a bunch of paper towels. They are commonly stored in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator with a temperature that ranges between 40 and 45ºF. Here, chicory greens will retain its freshness for up to 14 days. But if you want them to have a longer shelf-life, store them in a refrigerator with a temperature of 32ºF, where it would last for up to 28 days. Do not freeze them and do not store them next to ethylene-producing crops like apples, bananas, and alike.
Chicory roots, on the other hand, should be stored in the refrigerator with a temperature that ranges between 38 and 42ºF for it to last several months.
While chicory roots are more popular as a coffee replacement, it can also be boiled and enjoyed with butter. Its older leaves, besides eating raw as a salad, can also be sautéed, braised, or roasted due to its hardiness and to reduce its bitterness as well. To do this, simply blanch a bunch of chicory and slice them in half lengthwise. Heat up a spoonful of butter in a large frying pan and place each cut-side down. Cook them on low heat for 7 minutes, turn it over, and do the same. Serve it as a side salad to roasted chicken or cooked fish.
Chicory greens are generally low in calories. Not to mention that their calories are mainly composed of water and fiber – not sugar. They’re also low in fat and have a considerable amount of protein per calorie.
In addition, chicory is an excellent source of inulin, a kind of water-soluble fiber that promotes weight loss and gut health; the volatile oils from the chicory’s root helps in eliminating intestinal parasites, especially in animals. Thus, chicory is used as a treatment for gallstones and other gastrointestinal disorders like constipation, liver diseases, and upset stomach. Furthermore, it also helps in treating cuts and bruises in humans.
On another note, it also provides vitamin B6 and manganese which helps in promoting brain health. It also has been used to help lower down the blood pressure and a rapid heartbeat.
When Are Chicory Greens in Season in Texas?
To find out when Chicory Greens are in season in Texas, please check the seasonal chart below. Why is this important? We are rarely encouraged to think about the physical lengths our food travels before arriving on the market shelves. And all of this travel comes with a hefty environmental cost that is concealed from the consumer’s eye. One of the most salient benefits to eating seasonally is that you are effectively reducing your carbon footprint and supporting a more geographically sustainable food economy. Check other fruit and veg that’s in season in Texas now.