Crop Spot: Chicories

Jump into bitter greens with chicories! Chicories can include anything from colorful radicchio, frisee, endive, escarole, or even the plant grown for the root instead of the leaves (think chicory coffee). They are treasured for their bright, bitter taste. According to Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, Thomas Jefferson even described chicory as “one of the greatest acquisitions a farmer can have” in a letter to George Washington in 1795. 

How to Grow Chicories

Chicories are considered cool-weather plants and hot weather will create an unbalanced extra-bitter plant. Certain plants, like endive, require a second step of re-burying the root in a root cellar to create a blanched head. With a huge range of varieties from this plant family, it’s important to find planting tips for your specific type! 

Shopping for chicory seeds can be really fun! Check out radicchio, which can grow in varieties that look like roses, or even sea creatures, or have been tested for hardiness in Michigan

Chicory Health Facts

Chicory root can really help with your digestive system, from working as a prebiotic to helping to control your blood sugar and insulin levels. It should, however, be avoided by pregnant women as it has been labeled as Possibly Unsafe for women carrying children. 

Bitter greens as a group are foods with high nutrient density, as well as being low-carb and high in fiber. Endive, in particular, has a flavonoid called kaempferol that has been studied as a cancer-fighting compound.  

Radicchio varieties from Loma Farm.

How to Cook with Chicories

Bitter greens are easily incorporated into fresh salads, and Belgian endive, due to its slightly cupped shape, is great for hand-held appetizers. Chicory coffee has been popular since the late eighteenth century, and a version of it can be purchased from local Michigan farmers

Radicchio is a really versatile variety of chicory that can be used fresh, and also incorporated into recipes from risotto to amaro (check out the Radicchio Zine from the Culinary Breeding Network for these recipes and more!) Roasting radicchio takes some of the bitterness away and allows it to star as a cool weather side dish. Try our easy recipe:

Roasted Radicchio with Cranberry Maple Reduction

Start by combining your cranberry juice and maple syrup in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and allow to continue simmering, until it coats the back of a spoon without pooling on the edges. 

While your reduction is simmering, preheat your oven to 425. Cut through the entire head of your radicchio to halve it, or depending on the size and variety, quarter it. Place on a sheet pan, cut side up, and drizzle with oil, and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 15 minutes, or until it is slightly charred. 

This recipe is great with the addition of several local options, from pear slices to roasted nuts. If adding any of these ingredients to the plate, prep them while your radicchio is in the oven. When your radicchio comes out of the oven, add to a serving platter and drizzle with the cranberry maple reduction, adding your (optional) toppings last! Enjoy! 

Storing Chicories

As with most greens, the quicker you eat chicories after purchasing, the better. In the meantime, store them in the crisper drawer in an open or perforated sealable bag for best results, and remove any wilted leaves from the head before starting any recipe. 

Claire Butler is the Communications Coordinator for Taste the Local Difference. Contact her at [email protected]

Interested in learning more about cool weather greens? Check out our Crop Spot for Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, or Dark Leafy Greens!