After coffee and tea, chicory is perhaps the most interesting plant-based beverage that you might not have heard of. Besides being one of the few plants that can replicate the rich taste and body of the coffee, it also possesses several health benefits. Chief among these is its lack of caffeine, and if you’re looking to cut down on your daily caffeine intake, chicory is especially worth considering as an alternative. In this article, we discuss everything you need to know about this French plant. We’ll go over how it fares as a substitute to coffee, its rich history that goes back to the Ancient Egyptians, the several health benefits it can provide, how you can make your cup at home, and much more.
What Exactly is Chicory?
There are two types of chicory out there. The first, called Cichorium intybus, is the one used as a coffee substitute. It is also used in medicines that are used to treat a wide variety of illnesses. The second, called Cichorium endivia, is also referred to as ‘endive.’ This is a leafy vegetable that is often used for salads and other healthy foods. This article focuses only on the first type of chicory.
The History of Chicory
Both forms of chicory are thought to be as early as 5000 years old, stretching back to the Ancient Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians. Prominent authors of this era, such as Ovid, Virgil, and others, have mentioned chicory in their literary works. These peoples used chicory as a medicinal ingredient to treat ailments like upset stomach, cancer, high blood pressure, skin inflammation, etc.
Little is known of chicory beyond this in our ancient and medieval histories. The plant became popular once again in the 17th century when it was introduced to European shores. From there, it spread to England, the Dutch, and, most importantly, to France. Until the plant’s introduction and naturalization in France, chicory was still in fairly limited supply, available to very small percentages of these populations. However, an acute shortage of coffee inspired the chicory movement in France, and eventually in the entire Western world.
During 1808, Napoleon enforced a ‘Continental Blockade’ that prevented the import of anything British into France and colonies. Chicory had only just been introduced in 1801 by two men, but this blockade completely disrupted the coffee supply in these territories. The result was the widespread adoption of chicory as a substitute. It was (and still is) much cheaper than coffee despite both tasting almost identical. By 1835, France had begun exporting more than a million pounds of the plant annually.
From here, it spread to Louisiana, a French colony, and New Orleans during the American Civil War. If you had heard of chicory before reading this article, the chances are that New Orleans was a connection you instantly made. This is because New Orleans has stubbornly held on to its rich chicory culture to this day. The Café du Monde is a famous beverage derived from chicory that is native to this area. Served au lait, it is generally consumed with beignets. The experimentation with coffee alternatives also led them to try things like acorn and beets, which contain caffeine. Most other places reverted to coffee after the end of the war, but these two states have stuck to this versatile plant.
The Health Benefits of Chicory coffee
One of the main reasons chicory has seen a resurgence in recent times is the various health benefits one can derive from it. Generally, chicory is prepared as a mixture with coffee in a proportion of your preference, though you could make a completely chicory based beverage to. If you find yourself drinking over five cups of coffee a day, chicory is an excellent way to cut down your caffeine intake. You will still be consuming something that tastes like coffee. This can be crucial in avoiding health issues such as nausea, vomiting, restlessness, anxiety, etc.
The main essentials found in chicory are manganese, vitamin B6, and a prebiotic called inulin. Manganese and vitamin B6 are both very good for your brain. They reduce anxiety and help with insomnia. Chicory is a natural ‘contra-stimulante.’ Its sedative properties can have a soothing mental effect on consumers.
Though relatively low in other conventional nutrients, chicory is rich in fiber. Also, the presence of inulin has been found to lower blood sugar levels, prevent breast cancer, relieve arthritis, as well as improve digestion. Another study found that chicory consumption reduces the level of unhealthy LDL cholesterol in animals. But though there are several claims regarding the potential benefits of chicory, some skepticism is needed due to one key fact. Some of the studies, especially those on blood sugar levels, prove results for inulin rather than chicory itself. If true, chicory might help you delay the onset of type 2 diabetes, and save you another bunch of heart conditions. But there is further research needed to prove the specific health benefits of chicory, despite its common usage as a medicinal ingredient as well.
Another thing to be extremely wary of is the potential for adverse side effects that are consuming chicory. According to Healthline, chicory consumption has been linked with miscarriage and menstrual bleeding amongst pregnant women. It is also known to trigger allergic reactions due to the transmission of birch pollen and ragweed. This can lead to itchiness and swelling in your mouth, lips, tongue, and other adjacent areas. Too much inulin has also been linked to a reversal in some of its supposed benefits. Instead of providing digestive relief and improving metabolism, it has the opposite effect when consumed in excess. Pregnant women must, at the very least, consult their doctor to ensure that there won’t be any adverse consequences of drinking chicory coffee.
How to Make Chicory Coffee at Home
Despite some gaps in concrete research for chicory coffee, people across Europe and North America have been consuming it regularly for centuries now. As such, you could easily incorporate this concoction in your daily routine. Alternatively, you could undertake a foraging expedition, or grow some in your backyard to pluck and harvest the raw chicory yourself. This will give you the full experience of consuming this beverage, while also allowing you to add your personal touch to the various steps of preparation.
Making the Coffee Chicory Blend
What you’ll need:
- a baking sheet and oven
- a coffee grinder
- coffee grounds of your choice
- apparatus for your method of brewing/steeping
- milk, spices, other additives (optional)
The hard part is mostly over once the chicory is in your hands. Now, you need to wash the plant thoroughly, and then cut it julienne before baking in an oven to dehydrate and roast them. Heat to 200* Fahrenheit for just over an hour, followed by roasting at 300* F till it appears brown and crisp. After allowing the chicory to cool down, cut it into smaller pieces, and use your coffee grinder to bring them to the same size as your coffee grounds. You could also use a blender if you prefer a more finely ground mixture. Then, mix the ground chicory with your coffee of choice in whichever proportion you prefer. Generally, a 2:1 ratio with two parts coffee and one part chicory is recommended, but you can experiment here to discover what suits your palette.
The last step is to brew the mixture just like you’d brew a normal cup of coffee. You can use any of the traditional methods, such as pour-over, french press, or any of the others. Alternatively, you can mix the grounds with some hot water and strain the solution after steeping for a few minutes. Add some spices (cinnamon, star anise, etc.), sugar, or milk to enhance the flavor of your cup.
Using a Pre-Prepared Mixture of Coffee and Chicory
If you want to skip the long process of picking and cleaning chicory, you could easily purchase a commercial coffee-chicory blend online. Cafe du Monde’s Coffee Chicory blend is an especially popular choice, but be prepared to experiment a little with different brands to find the right one for you. Increasingly, multinational coffee companies are blending their coffee with chicory due to the rising prices of the former, and to cater to lower-income households. This is especially the case in India, where chicory is ten times cheaper compared to coffee, leading to a 60-40 ratio of coffee to chicory in many products.
Regardless of which method you choose, the way to prepare the beverage remains the same. Use of the methods mentioned before with your commercial blend, and add some toppings at the end to suit your tastes. Chicory coffee can have a distinctly earthy flavor that might turn some off, and adding milk is the best way to enhance the complexity of the beverage. The Café du Monde beverage (not the company) famous in New Orleans is served with milk to balance its bitterness and bright acidity.
Try these Chicory blends we found just for you!
Chicory is an exciting plant that has been around forever. There are two different types, one of which is used as a medicinal ingredient, and the other is reserved for foods like salads. The Ancient Greeks and Romans used the plant in its former capacity as far as back as 5000 years ago, but chicory only became popular as a coffee substitute in the seventeenth century. A need borne from necessity, chicory became popular at a time when coffee supplies were low. But its health benefits, the lack of caffeine, and its status as a genuinely viable alternative to coffee have seen its popularity persist well into the modern era.
Thank you for reading! Let us know in the comments below what your opinion is on Chicory coffee…have you tried it out yet?
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