Endive is a bitter-tasting salad green that sometimes can be found in salad mixes, such as mesclun. Mesclun is a mix of young tender greens, such as arugula, chervil, and endive.
Two varieties of endive are grown:
- Curly endive or frisée (var. crispum), which has narrow, curled, frilly leaves that are dark green
- Escarole (var. latifolium), which has smooth, broad leaves and a yellow center. Escarole is less bitter than curly endive.
Food names can be confusing sometimes. Curly endive and escarole are part of the chicory family (Cichorium endivia). But what's commonly known as Belgian or French endive is actually called Witloof chicory (Cichorium intybus).
Witloof chicory is grown from the roots of a variety of chicory. The leaves are pale in color as the plant is forced or grown in darkness. The chicory roots are made into a coffee substitute.
Witloof chicory grows in tight cylindrical heads that separate into leaves that look like little scoops. Belgian endive tastes slightly bitter. The paler the color of the leaves, the milder their flavor.
Endive Nutrition Facts
When picking salad greens, go for those that are darker green in color. Dark green leafy greens like endive give you more nutrients than, for instance, iceberg lettuce. Such nutrients include the antioxidant beta carotene, which your body converts into vitamin A.
Half a cup (25 grams) of chopped endive contains:
Carbohydrates: 0.8 grams
Dietary fiber: 0.8 grams
Calcium: 13 milligrams
Potassium: 79 milligrams
Folate: 36 micrograms
Endive Health Benefits
As a dark leafy green, endive has many potential health benefits.
Good Source of Folate
Endive is a good source of folate. Folate is a B vitamin that’s important for your body. Folate helps your body make new red blood cells. You can get folate from the foods you eat or as a vitamin. The man-made form is known as folic acid.
The recommended daily amount of folate is 400 micrograms. If you’re pregnant or planning to get pregnant, you’ll need to take 400 micrograms to 800 micrograms of folate a day. Folate protects against serious birth defects.
May Help Prevent Cancer
Kaempferol is a powerful plant compound (flavonoid) that’s found in many vegetables and fruits such as endive. Early studies show that kaempferol-rich foods may be linked to a lower risk of developing certain cancers, such as colon, liver, and skin.
Kaempferol also has other health benefits. It’s an antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. It also may offer protection against heart disease and diabetes.
Keeps Your Heart Healthy
Endive is rich in potassium. This is a mineral that plays an important role in the function of your nerves, muscle, kidney, and heart. Potassium can be found in many foods like fruits, vegetables, dairy, and seafood.
Most people don’t get enough potassium in their diet. Adding more potassium, though, can help lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. Women should get 2,600 milligrams of potassium a day. Men need about 3,400 milligrams a day.
Folate may also play a role in heart health. A study of over 20,000 adults with high blood pressure found that those who took folic acid supplements, as well as blood-pressure lowering medicine enalapril, had a significantly lower risk of stroke than those who only took enalapril.
Helps Maintain a Healthy Weight
Endive is nearly 95 percent water and is low in calories. It’s also high in fiber. When you eat foods that are high in fiber, that keeps you feeling full for longer. This helps to promote a healthy weight. Dietary fiber also helps control high blood sugar and promotes bowel health.
Fiber is found in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. It’s recommended that women get about 25 grams of fiber a day. Men should aim at about 38 grams of fiber a day.
While gradually increasing your fiber intake, drink plenty of fluids. Dietary fiber needs lots of water to pass smoothly through your digestive tract.
Allergies to endive aren’t common, but it’s possible to have such an allergy. Scientists say that chicory may cross-react with birch pollen, and lead to birch pollen-associated oral allergy syndrome. As endive is a member of the chicory family, you may also want to be cautious with endive if you're allergic to birch pollen.
Tips on Selecting and Storing Endive
Endives are considered a winter vegetable. In the northern hemisphere, endive is at its peak from October to April. More recently, they've been sold in spring and summer as well.
When picking endive, check that the leaves are crisp and bright green. They should be clean and free of brown spots. Go for young, tender leaves.
Place your salad greens in a bag and refrigerate at 35 degrees Fahrenheit to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Just before using them, wash thoroughly under running water. Use a salad spinner or blot dry with paper towels.
How to Cook Endive
Try adding endive to your salad. Build a different salad by mixing up a few different types of greens:
- Mild lettuces like butterhead
- Crisp leaves like cabbage or romaine lettuce
- Those that have some bite, like endive or arugula
Adding a small amount of fat to your salad can help your body absorb nutrients better. Choose a dressing made with oil, such as a vinaigrette. This is a healthier choice than creamy dressings.
You can also cook endive. Sauté the leaves in some oil and season with a little salt and pepper and garlic. Greens will shrink while cooking, so be aware of portion sizes.
Endive can also be added to stews, soups, and casseroles. Add them toward the end.
You can replace crackers with Belgian endive and eat it with your favorite dip, chicken salad, or tuna salad.
Belgian endive is also great on your grill or roasted in the oven. Add some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper for a tasty side dish.
To reduce the bitterness of Belgian endive, remove the small dense cone at the base of the core. Don’t soak the leaves, as that will make them more bitter. Instead, just rinse them quickly.