Home Health Foods Vegetables Chicory and Endive

Chicory and Endive

(Cichorium intybus var. foliosum – Family Compositae)

Chicory, Radicchio, French endive, sugarloaf/witloof/Brussels chicory, Belgian (red) endive, red chicory, succory, Chioggia, Verona, Treviso, Castelfranco (types)

(Cichorium endivia var. latifolium)

Endive, curly endive, escarole, broad-leaved/Bavarian endive, Batavia endive, grumolo, chicory/frisée, scarola

These plants are so closely related that their common names have, and probably always will, lead to mass confusion. Another close relative is the dandelion whose leaves resemble those of wild chicory.

Chicory describes a group of hardy annual or biennial cultivated plants developed from a common wild plant of Europe, western Asia, and Africa. Wild forms of endive grow in the same area as chicory, but extends farther to the east to India and beyond, including Siberia.

The wild plant is also known as blue succory

because of the colour of its flowers.

The cultivated varieties are root chickory (var. sativum) and salad chicory (var. foliosum).

Root chicory

was initially used as animal fodder, but later as the basis for ersatz coffee.

Salad chicory can be divided into five groups: radicchio (popular Italian variety), sugarloaf (a popular heading variety), large-leafed chicory, cutting or leaf chicory (Catalogna or asparagus chicory), and Belgian endive or witloof chicory (white or blanched varieties that originated in France and Belgium).

Chicory was introduced to England, Germany, Holland, and France in the 13th century. The French used it primarily for medicinal purposes to “comfort the weake and feeble stomack and to help gouty limbs and sore eyes”.

Today, the main growing countries are Belgium, France, Holland, and Germany. The earliest mention of it in North America was in 1803, and ever since, has created confusion in the culinary world.

The US retained part of the French name chicorée frisée (curly chickory); but even more confusing is its Witloof cousin, known as chicory in Britain, endive in France, and Belgiun endive in America. Chicory is now widely cultivated in southern regions of the US and enjoying the same sort of popularity as head lettuce.

Some varieties include: Broad Leaved Batavian, En Cornet de Bordeaux, Green Curled Ruffee, Green Curled (Moss Curled), Ione, Limnos, Riccia Pancalieri, Salad King, Sanda, Scarola Verde, Très Fine Maraichère (Coquette). And Wallone Freisée Weschelkopf (Wallone).

The ancient Egyptians ate, and probably cultivated, endive. The Greeks and Romans certainly did, as mentioned by Ovid, Horace, Pliny, and Dioscorides. They seemed to prefer it to chicory because it was slightly less bitter. They also likely blanched it, and were well aware of the procedure.

The broad-leafed endive is the one most often blanched,

accomplished by covering the plant. When this is done, it assumes the new name of escarole.

This accidental discovery took place in the 1840s, but not recorded until 1912. The head gardener at the Brussels Botanic Garden wanted to bring on winter chickory. He lifted several roots, chopped off the foliage, and planted them. Soon small tight shoots appeared. The next season, he again repeated the process. He kept his discovery a secret; but when he died, his widow told her gardener, who passed it on; and, now, the technique is widely practised.

It is wise to remember that, when any vegetable is blanched, it is set in a darkened place for long periods of time until the colour is leeched from its leaves. This may be an inviting culinary attraction, but it becomes a nutritional disaster.

The name “Batavia” came from an ancient tribe who, in classical times, inhabited what is now Holland. Their name has often been applied to things Dutch, including this vegetable.

From the 16th century onwards, modern cultivated forms were developed which had larger and less bitter leaves.

Endive is thought to have originated in the remote past as a hybrid of chicory and another member of the same genus, but it has been a distinct species since prehistoric times. The curly types are the most cultivated.

Rich in iron, potassium, beta carotene, and Vitamins A and B complex, both chicory and endive make a popular salad addition; but they can also be cooked and added to numerous other dishes. Chicory, with its full colour, has long been used as a digestive aid, a diuretic, and a laxative, and for reducing inflammation. It is also used as a liver and gallbladder tonic and for bouts of rheumatism, gout, and hemorrhoids.

Raddicchio (pronounced rah-DEEK-eeyo)

is the Italian word for all members of the chicory clan, whether green, cream, red, striped, or marbled. In Canada and the US, however, it generally means only the red-leafed varieties.

Often the leaves are ruby-coloured with ivory veins and can range from purple to red, but there is a green variety. All radicchios begin as green leafy clusters. Some gradually turn red and change shape, while others do not. The colour appears only during sufficiently cold temperatures; but, no matter how hard one works to cultivate them, they are predictable in that they are so unpredictable.

Radicchio heads will have a white core showing at the base and can come loosely headed or tightly bound. If a small specimen is sold, it is probably because it was heavily trimmed to remove brown leaves. Very small heads are less fresh and should be avoided.

This vegetable does not like to become wet, so it needs to be wrapped in a paper towel before being placed in a plastic bag and put into the refrigerator, but it does last longer than most salad greens.

It is a fair source of folate, as well as vitamins C and E. It also contains anthocyanins, which are deep-coloured pigments belonging to a broader group of phytochemical compounds known as flavonoids that have numerous health benefits.

Radicchio is cultivated mainly in the province of Veneto, Italy. The largest growing and marketing center lies right on the Adriatic in Chioggia.

Since the mid 1980s, Italian radicchio has been available almost year round in other countries, and is now being increasingly cultivated elsewhere including the US. In fact, it has become so popular, that the name is being “de-Italianized” with its pronunciation leaning toward the use of a hard “k” rather than the soft “ch”.

Radicchio heads are usually harvested with a small root stub attached so that the leaves or heads hold their shape better. Depending on the type, radicchio may form small heads or open leaf-rosettes. Treviso and Castelfranco are two especially popular varieties. The former is used mainly in cooked dishes as it does not release any bitter substances. The latter is usually eaten raw as it is especially decorative with red-streaked green leaves and a red and white heart. The leaves do lose their decorative colour when cooked becoming a brownish-green.

Sugarloaf chicory

originated in the south of France, Italy, and southern Switzerland and is only cultivated commercially in a few other places. It is harvested from September to the end of November and has a tolerance for light frosts.

Although botanically related to the chicory, sugarloaf varieties have more in common with the romaine lettuce or Chinese cabbage as far as appearance is concerned.

It generally forms large, firm yellowish green, tightly closed heads that can weigh up to four pounds. Interestingly, the most important variety claims the category name of “Sugarloaf” because of its shape rather than its flavour, which is both nutty and with the typical bitter flavour of Belgian endive.

After a frost, the bitterness becomes milder as it ripens, but can also be minimized by soaking briefly in lukewarm water. It may be used as a salad green, served au gratin, or boiled.

Large-leaved chicory

originated in Italy, where it is still the most widely cultivated, but it is also grown in the US, Spain, and France.

It develops dandelion-like dark green leaves that can be up to two feet long. They are held together by a short stalk, but do not form a head. They resemble an upright growing dandelion plant.

Large-leafed chicory is more bitter than other chicory varieties, but it is precisely its high intybin content with its beneficial effect on the digestion and blood vessels which is most appreciated by connoisseurs. High in vitamins and minerals, chicory is harvested about three months after sowing.

The various types differ mainly in the shape of their leaves, which may be slit or toothed. The most important variety is Catalogna, an Italian variety with long, narrow, often heavily slit leaves. The delicate heart is a favourite in salads, but also as a side dish cooked with garlic in olive oil.

Escarole

looks very much like butterhead lettuce; but the leaves are more fleshy, with jagged, pointy edges versus the softer ruffle of lettuce. Its colour progression is indicative of chicory, however, as the inner leaves are almost white turning light green then dark on the outside.

Escarole has a nutty, bitter taste with the outer leaves tasting more bitter than the inner, which mellows with braising. It does make a flavourful addition to salads with nuts and crutons, as well as cooked dishes using chickpeas, nuts, raisins, shallots, oranges, and avocado.

Sautéeing it with garlic and hot peppers makes a good side dish or in sandwiches. It is an excellent source of folate, vitamins A and C, iron, magnesium, potassium, thiamin, and riboflavin.

Endive is one plant with two primary forms. The Batavian

and the Curly (var. crispum)

The Batavian (escarole) has large, broad leaves and is an upright plant with a low rosette of delicately serrated leaves. Escarole (the blanched form) is the least bitter member of the chicory family.

The curled varieties are generally feathery and used for summer cropping. The more robust broad-leaved types tolerate cold, are disease resistant, and grow well in winter. Each form can be grown from mini to massive and from a creamy pale to deep green.

All sizes and shapes, however, still belong to the same species although curly endive is often incorrectly marketed as chicory.

Endive contains in the leaves a bitter substance called intybin, which acts as a mild appetite stimulant and digestive aid; so it is particularly appealing in hors d’oeuvre salads.

Frisée or curly endive has seldom been used extensively as farmers considered it too sensitive to cold and too temperamental to grow. Its traditional growing areas are in southern Europe, but it has become so popular that growing it under glass in cooler regions is becoming more worthwhile.

Large-rooted varieties have long been used dried, ground, and roasted as a coffee substitute

which was popular in England during the Napoleonic wars when blockades of the French coast cut coffee supplies

During the 19th century, it was recorded that roasted chicory was adulterated with a multitude of substances as diverse as mangolds, oak bark, mahogany sawdust, and even baked horse liver.

Cultivation can be divided into two stages: growing the roots and forcing the leaves.

Roots are grown mainly by agricultural companies which use the leaves as animal fodder. They are stored temporarily after harvesting, since thorough cooling causes shoots to be produced more readily.

With forcing, the shoots are placed shoulder to shoulder in crates, containers, pits, or on screens in cellars or darkened rooms.

There are three different forcing methods:
1)in soil with a covering of soil, that is, dredging the roots in moist sand or peat and then covering them loosely with soil;
2) in soil without a covering of soil, that is, the dredged roots are covered with opaque plastic;
3) in water that has been warmed to 64°F, without covering.

The third method is becoming more prevalent because it is the easiest and least expensive.

Belgian endive is harvested by hand. The heads are broken or cut off just above the root, washed and trimmed, and packed into lightproof cardboard boxes. They are not to be exposed to light, except for short periods, as even a small amount causes the outer leaves to turn yellow or green, making them bitter and impairing their quality.

Even after purchase, it must be kept away from light. This practice also holds for the red Belgian endive, which is the offspring of Belgiun endive and Radiccio de Treviso, which is a slim tulip-red chickory and not simply Belgian endive with a different hue.

Red endive is generally smallish, but pleasantly bitter. It has been on the market since the 1980s and loses its attractive red colour when it is cooked.

Belgian endive is not sold according to variety, but rather according to the timing of the forcing: early, second early, mid-season, and maincrop.

The red Belgian endive variety called “Carla” is a 1990s cross between white Belgian endive and “radicchio rosso”, and is available in February and March.

There are three types: forcing, non-forcing or sugarloaf, and red or radicchio types.

There are also five prominent northern Italian varieties, each being named after its growing region.

Some varieties include the following:

Brussels Witloof

(Witloof de Brussels) is one of the most famous forcing types, also grown for its root.

Castelfranco

is mild and tender. It is a soft crumpled rose-wine, speckled with cream or yellow and the most lettuce-like of all the chicories.

Catalogna di Galatina

is an Italian large-leafed specialty in which the somewhat bizarre-looking crunchy shoots grow from the inside of the plant during the winter. The shoots are very tasty raw or cooked.

Chioggia (rosa di Chioggia)

is the best known and one of the most commonly available. It has a round head that is usually red, but there are also greenish-yellow and reddish-white types.

Grumolo Verde

is a non-forcing type with very cold-hardy round leaves.

Large Rooted Magdeburg

is grown mainly for its root, but young leaves can be harvested.

Palla Rossa Zorzi Precoce

is a radicchio with a tangy delicate flavour, colouring better in cool weather.

Radice Amare (bitter roots) is another Italian root chicory which can grow up to two feet in length. Around Verona, they are peeled, boiled, and served cold as an antipasto.

Rossa di Treviso (or Radicchio di Treviso)

is a raddicchio that originated in northern Italy. It has crisp green leaves that become deep red and veined with white in cooler conditions. Dating back to the 16th century, it is easy to distinguish from other varieties. It is narrow, with elongated leaves and thick white midribs that do not form a solid head. Its taste is very strong and more bitter than other varieties. It is easily recognized with its elongated and narrow shape and white central vein that forms into little rosettes when very young. It looks more like a Belgian endive than a round Verona radicchio. Early Treviso resembles a small ruby romaine, while the late variety has a swirl to it like the tail feathers of a tropical bird; but its flavour is like Belgian endive.

Rossa di Verona

has a spreading tendency, but is able to withstand considerable frost. It is small, intensely coloured, but rather mild-tasting.

Soncino

is an Italian root chicory which is dug up as needed from fall to spring and prepared in various ways. The white roots are rather bitter tasting, but very healthy!

Sugarhat is a non-forcing sugarloaf variety that has sweet leaves.

Verona

is more elongated and bright red. It is the type of radicchio most commonly sold and cultivated in North America.

Witloof Zoom

is a forcing sugarloaf variety that produces tightly packed high-quality leaves.