Chicory is blowing my mind!

 

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Have you ever driven along a country road in Ontario and noticed the proliferation of pretty wild blue flowers in adjacent fields and rubbing shoulders with your road’s? Those ubiquitous blossoms, sometimes called Blue Daisies or Blue Sailors are those of the chicory plant, a versatile perennial that is a chameleon in the culinary world. Chicory is one of those amazing plants that is a master of disguises, and it will work its way in to your heart and into your diet without you being aware of it.

Most of us know chicory as a mainstay in high-falutin’ salads and as a green that can be grilled or sautéed and served as a side dish, or chopped into omelettes and quiches. Belgian endive, often considered the ne plus ultra of salad greens is a member of the chicory family, as are radicchio, its curly cousins frisée, and escarole, all highly esteemed by chefs for their stunning visual appeal as well as their unique, slightly bitter flavor profile.

 

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Native to France, this wonderful plant is not only restricted to your dinner plates, it has famously been associated with coffee since the Napoleonic era. When the continental blockade imposed by Napoleon restricted access to coffee, the entrepreneurial French started mixing dried, roasted and ground chicory root with the coffee supplies that they had, to stretch it. Et voila! It worked, so much so that in some cases it was consumed alone, without being mixed with coffee at all.

 

Ground chicory root. Get it? Ground.

Ground chicory root. Get it? Ground.

 

After the Napoleonic wars chicory was exported worldwide, and to French colonies in North America, where it grows wild now, and specifically, in Louisiana, where the practice of mixing chicory root with coffee really established a foothold. In a case of history repeating itself, when New Orleans’ supplies were cut off during the civil war, locals once again began mixing chicory with coffee, just like their forebears. These days, café au lait made with coffee and chicory, maybe consumed with a plate of fresh made beignets is an essential part of the New Orleans experience.

 

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Mixing chicory with your coffee, or replacing coffee with chicory is an idea that has been promoted by health experts for years; similar in taste, chicory has no caffeine and is touted as containing anti-inflammatory properties as well as protecting the liver, reducing stress and helping to relieve osteoarthritis. But wait, there’s more! If you’ve been reading the  labels on food packages, you’ve probably noticed an ingredient called inulin. Most of the inulin used in processing foods is extracted from chicory root! Carrying on the theme of extreme adaptability, inulin is a carbohydrate that is added to many processed foods for a number of reasons, replacing fat, sugar or flour in many foods. A naturally occurring soluble fibre, it acts as a prebiotic in your intestinal tract, helps control diabetes, relieves constipation and promotes weight loss. It truly is amazing how one little plant, that pretty blue flower that brightens our day on a Sunday drive can contain so much magic.

 

Thank you chicory!

Thank you chicory!

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