Chicory is a plant native to Europe that has become popular around the world, especially in France, Japan, and parts of the United States. If you have ever been to New Orleans, chances are you have drank chicory in your coffee without even knowing it. Chicory root and leaves are used in food as well as for medicinal purposes. Rich in fiber, chicory root is good for digestion. It is also supposed to have a number of other health benefits. Whether you have tried coffee with chicory root before or you have never heard of the stuff and are simply curious about it, here is everything you need to know about chicory root.
What Exactly is Chicory Root?
Chicory is a plant with leaves that look a little like mustard greens or dandelion leaves and a root that resembles a carrot or a parsnip. It was grown for medicinal purposes 5,000 years ago by Egyptians. Ancient Greeks and Romans also used chicory as a vegetable and in salads. It was foraged in Europe as early as the 1600’s, but was likely to be eaten as a last resort because wild-grown chicory root has an incredibly bitter taste.
Chicory root is grown and harvested similarly to other root vegetables (think beets and turnips). It is generally harvested with special equipment and then cut into small pieces before being dried, roasted, and often ground up. In some parts of the world, the leaves and roots are also consumed because cultivated chicory is less bitter than wild-grown chicory. Chicory leaves are often eaten like celery, while chicory root and leaf buds are commonly boiled and eaten. Chicory is also sometimes used as a spice to flavor foods and drinks.
Common Uses and Benefits of Chicory Root
Chicory root is full of water-soluble fiber, which means it attracts water and that slows down digestion. It is often ground up and used to replace fat or sugar in some prepared foods, which results in a lower-calorie food. Therefore, it has been shown in some studies to help promote weight loss. Soluble fiber also helps reduce your cholesterol and help regulate your blood sugar. Since chicory root is made up of about 40% of fiber, it is jam-packed with these health benefits.
Chicory root is known to help with constipation, loss of appetite, and upset stomach and is used by some people for gall bladder issues (it is supposed to increase bile in the gall bladder). It is also used to treat swelling and inflammation by applying a paste directly on the skin.
Most people are familiar with chicory root because it is often found in coffee. It was added to coffee by colonial Americans and in France where they believed it not only enhanced the flavor of the coffee but was also good for your health. It remains a huge part of coffee culture in Louisiana. If you drink a cup of that famous Cafe du Monde coffee in New Orleans, you are drinking a blend of coffee and chicory (you will drink a blend of the two just about anywhere you get coffee in New Orleans).
Ground chicory root is not only used as an additive to coffee. It is also used to make a coffee substitute. This bitter “coffee” drink is commonly consumed in France and Japan and has recently been gaining steam in areas of the United States. To make chicory root coffee, you can either roast the root and grind it up yourself or buy pre-roasted ground chicory root. Most products advise dissolving two tablespoons of the ground root in a cup of hot water (you can also add a smaller amount to your regular brewed coffee).
Chicory root has what most people describe as a woody taste that is reminiscent of coffee. The major difference is that chicory root does not contain caffeine, so it is a good alternative for people trying to eliminate or reduce their caffeine intake.
Notable Side Effects of Chicory
Just like everything, there are negative side effects of consuming too much chicory. Because chicory root is so full of fiber, it can cause gas, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, or constipation if over consumed. It is also not advised for people with diabetes to consume too much chicory as it could reduce blood sugar levels too much. If you are allergic to certain plants such as ragweed, you may have an allergic reaction to chicory.
Consult a doctor before consuming large quantities of chicory root if you are pregnant as chicory contains a substance that can cause menstrual bleeding, which could, in turn, cause a miscarriage. Your doctor may advise you to stick with decaffeinated coffee while pregnant rather than reducing your caffeine intake by switching to chicory coffee.
If you are looking to reduce your caffeine intake, consider moving your regular coffee to the backburner and trying a nice hot mug of chicory root instead. If the taste does not quite satisfy your need for coffee, consider adding a little to your regular coffee and then slowly transitioning from more coffee and less chicory to more chicory and less coffee until you can make the switch. If you are not worried about your caffeine intake, consider adding a little to your coffee or other foods for the added health benefits.
Now close your eyes while you are sipping your coffee in the morning and imagine you are sitting at a beautiful cafe in New Orleans (with a few beignets on the side!).
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