Chicory is a plant cultivated all over the world, and many believe it offers exceptional medical and nutritional value. Learn what chicory is, about coffee with chicory, and more. You may find that chicory health benefits far outweigh chicory (root) side effects.
What Is Chicory?
Chicory (Cichorium intybus), a perennial plant, has been around for ages and is grown all over the world. People have long used it as food for their livestock. But it's also popular for human consumption due to its medicinal, nutritional, and culinary properties.
Chicory flowers are bright blue, pink, or white. You may see them along roadsides in summers and in wilderness areas. The leaves of chicory look somewhat similar to those of a dandelion, but their shapes can vary. Mostly, they are either deeply lobed or have an irregular, toothed appearance.
Most parts of the plant, including the roots, have tons of nutrients. They include proteins, vitamins, minerals, soluble fiber, carbohydrates, and much more.
What Are Chicory’s Health Benefits?
Research has found that chicory is:
- Antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial
- Antimutagenic (can reduce the rate of mutation)
- Anthelmintic (can treat parasite-related infections)
- Antihepatotoxic (can prevent liver damage)
Though the researchers were studying chicory as a livestock feed, their findings overlap with other studies involving people. For example, the inulin in chicory root is a prebiotic. Prebiotics:
- Stimulate the growth of beneficial gut bacteria while decreasing other germs and bacteria in the intestines
- Relieve constipation
- Lower the risks of osteoporosis by increasing the absorption rate of essential minerals, especially calcium
- Lower the risk of liver disorders
- Decrease the risk for cancer
- Reduce skin inflammation
- Reduce odorous compounds in colon and rectal contents
More research is needed to show chicory’s health benefits for humans.
What Are Uses for Chicory?
Almost every part of the chicory plant is used for several purposes.
An ingredient in beverages and foods. You can make a great salad with chicory leaves and flowers. The leaves taste even better when stir-fried or served as a side dish. In southern Italy, the natives love to eat fava beans and chicory together.
Alternatively, you can also bake or poach whole heads of chicory. Even better, wrap chicory with ham, cover it in a Béchamel sauce, and bake.
People also add chicory extracts to alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages (besides coffee) to enhance their taste. Often, the chicory roots are used to make alcohol.
Though the roots of fresh chicory taste bitter, there are various ways to debitter them. Methods include boiling, baking, or drying them, soaking them in citric acid or water, and roasting them. After being taken through any of these processes, the roots will be ready for use in human food and beverages, as forage for livestock, and as pet food.
An alternative to sugar. Chicory roots are rich in beneficial phytochemicals, including inulin (starch-like polysaccharide), flavonoids, coumarins, tannins, alkaloids, volatile oils, and many more.
Inulin makes up to 68% of the total compounds of the chicory roots. It is a polymer of fructose and dietary fiber. Inulin is low on calories, making it a good alternative for sugar.
Are There Any Side Effects of Eating Chicory?
There are a few. People often use inulin supplements or chicory root to add more fiber to their diets. But this added fiber may cause gassiness and other digestive issues. So you may want to avoid overeating chicory root.
There's some evidence that chicory may influence the production of bile in your body. So if you have gallstones, you should bear that in mind before consuming chicory. Only take chicory supplements under medical supervision.
What Is the Connection Between Coffee and Chicory?
Chicory is probably best known for its connection with coffee. At one time, many people could not afford coffee and learned to drink a hot chicory beverage instead. The flavor comes from the roots of the plant.
Surprisingly, chicory contains no caffeine, but it still lends a more roasted flavor to the beverage than do ordinary coffee beans in actual coffee. As a result, several manufacturers add chicory to coffee, which cuts down its caffeine content at the same time.