References: Chicory

Table of Contents

BRAM: Gimme ‘nother cup coffee
HESTER: If you don’t quit drinkin’ so much I’ll have to start usin’ chicory.

The Basics & Uses

Chicory is the common name given to the flowering plants in genus Cichorium of the family Asteraceae. There are two cultivated species, and four to six wild species.

Common chicory (Cichorium intybus) is a bushy perennial herb with blue or lavender flowers. Originating from Europe, it was naturalized in North America, where it has become a common roadside plant. The roots are baked, ground, and used as a coffee substitute and additive in the plant’s Mediterranean region of origin, although its use as a coffee additive is still very popular in the American South, particularly in New Orleans. It is a staple in Cajun-style red-eye gravy. Common chicory is also known as blue sailors, succory, and coffeeweed. The plant is cultivated and used as endive under the common names radicchio, Belgian endive, French endive, or witloof. It is grown in complete darkness to keep new leaves tender and pale.

True endive (Cichorium endivia) is a species of chicory which is specially grown and used as a salad green. It has a slightly bitter taste and has been attributed with herbal properties. Curly endive and the broad-leafed escarole are true endives.

Root chicory (Cichorium intybus var. sativum) has been in cultivation in Europe as a coffee substitute for a long time. Around 1970 it was found that the root contains up to 20% inulin. Since then, new strains have been created, giving root chicory an inulin content comparable to that of sugar beet. Inulin is mainly present in the plant family Asteraceae as a storage carbohydrate (for example Jerusalem artichoke, dahlia, etc.). It is used as a sweetener in the food industry (with a sweetening power 30% higher than that of sucrose) and is sometimes added to yoghurts as a prebiotic. Inulin can be converted to fructose and glucose through hydrolysis.

Chicory, with sugar beet and rye was used as an ingredient of the East German Mischkaffee (mixed coffee), introduced during the ‘coffee crisis‘ of 19769. Some beer brewers use roasted chicory to add flavor to their stouts.

Chicory’s leaves are still used today in typical Roman recipes: it’s common in Roman restaurants to eat dishes with boiled chicory leaves, olive oil and lemon juice (fried with garlic and red pepper). The plant is very common in the Roman countryside and is often picked by farmers; recently greengrocers introduced a cultivated variety of the plant, which is bigger and has longer leaves.

C. Endiva root has been used ethnomedically to treat dyspepsia, loss of appetite, liver and gallbladder problems, and intestinal worms, and Type II Diabetes.

Chicory is an ingredient in typical Roman recipes, generally fried with garlic and red pepper, with its bitter and spicy taste, often together with meat or potatoes.

Chicory, especially the flower, was used as a treatment in Germany, and is recorded in many books as an ancient German treatment for everyday ailments. It is variously used as a tonic and appetite stimulant, and as a treatment for gallstones, gastro-enteritis, sinus problems and cuts and bruises.

History

The chicory plant is one of the earliest cited in recorded literature. Horace mentions it in reference to his own diet, which he describes as very simple: “Me pascunt olivae, me cichorea, me malvae“(“As for me, olives, endives, and mallows provide sustenance.”). Lord Monboddo describes the plant in 1779 as the “chicoree”, which the French cultivate as a “pot herb”. In the Napoleonic Era in France, chicory frequently appeared as either an adulterant in coffee or a coffee substitute; this practice also became common in the United States and the United Kingdom.

FAO reports that in 2005, China and the USA were the top producers of lettuce and chicory.

Chicory is also mentioned in certain sericulture texts- the primary caretaker of the silkworms, the “silkworm mother” should not eat or even touch it.

Symbolism and popular references

The chicory flower is often seen as inspiration for the Romantic concept of the Blue Flower. It was also believed to be able to open locked doors, according to European folklore.

Chicory was also mentioned in an episode of The Simpsons, “Lisa the Iconoclast.” When Lisa walks into the Springfield Historical Society building, the curator is holding a mug and later says, “I always enjoy talking about Jebediah even when I’m drinking my chicory.”

In an episode of Family Guy, Martha Stewart, while responding to Lois Griffin’s compliment of her coffee, states that, “A little chicory perks up the taste of roasted coffee beans; it’s a good thing.”

In the science fiction TV series Stargate SG-1, when under the influence of an alien presence, the members of SG-1 comment that their coffee tastes oddly good. When Jack O’Neill suggests cinnamon as the possible source of the coffee’s good taste, Daniel Jackson comments that it may in fact be chicory.

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