Chicory is showing up in everything, from packaged foods to coffee. Here are the facts you need to know.
If you’ve seen chicory root coffee at the store and wondered what it is, you’re not the only one. Chicory leaves, which are tightly packed heads of bitter leaves like endive and radicchio, have been a part of American food culture for a long time. However, most of us have only recently started to use chicory root in foods and drinks.
Even though the root is edible, you can’t just roast it with olive oil and salt and eat it like that. Instead, the bitter root is usually roasted, ground, and added to food or used as an alternative to coffee. Here’s what you need to know about chicory root, how it can be used, and how it might be good for your health.
What is fibre from chicory root?
Kelli McGrane, M.S., RD, a dietitian for Lose It! and author of The Healthy Toast, says that chicory roots are the roots of the chicory plant and are high in fibre. “In particular, chicory roots have a lot of a type of fibre called inulin, which is also called chicory root fibre.
“McGrane says that chicory root fibre is often added to commercial foods to make them have more fibre. Most of the time, this also cuts the number of calories in the food. Find out why fibre is good for your health.
Is it good for your health?
McGrane says that one of the benefits of inulin is that it is a prebiotic. This means that it can help good bacteria (called probiotics) grow in your gut. “This is important because good gut health has been linked to losing weight, having a healthy digestive system, having a stronger immune system, and getting the most out of the nutrients you eat.
“One thing to keep in mind is that many types of fibre act as prebiotics. This means that any high-fiber diet, such as one full of plant foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, will have the same effect on gut health (learn more about prebiotics and prebiotic-rich foods).
McGrane says that, like other types of fibre, fibre from chicory root has been shown to help relieve constipation and keep blood sugar under control, especially in people with diabetes.
Chicory root also has small amounts of vitamin B6 and manganese, but you would have to eat a lot of it to get enough of these nutrients to make a difference.
What is coffee from chicory root?
Chicory root has a very strong, bitter taste. Just think about how bitter the leaves of endive and radicchio are. This is why we usually don’t eat it by itself. But the way chicory root tastes makes it a great coffee substitute.
McGrane says, “Chicory root coffee is a drink made from ground, roasted, and brewed chicory roots.” “By itself, chicory root coffee tastes and looks like regular coffee, but it has a bit more of a woody taste.”
Nestlé sells a drink called Ricoré that is 60% chicory root and 40% coffee. Chicory root grows naturally in France, where the drink is sold. This mix of coffee and chicory is also popular in New Orleans and a few other places.
This practise probably started because coffee grounds are more expensive than chicory root. Now, some people do it to lower the amount of caffeine in their coffee.
Even though chicory root coffee tastes good and doesn’t have caffeine, it doesn’t have much fibre because the grounds are strained out of the drink. There’s nothing wrong with that, but remember that chicory root coffee won’t give you the same prebiotic benefits as the root itself.
Is there anything that could go wrong with chicory root?
“Because the fibre in chicory root can’t be broken down, eating too much of it can cause gas and bloating,” says McGrane. “People with IBS may be more likely to have GI side effects from chicory root fibre than other people.
“Again, the same is true for many types of fibre, and these bad things only happen when you eat a lot of chicory root at once.
Chicory root is a good part of a healthy diet, but you don’t have to look for it. If you want to know why chicory root coffee tastes like wood or if your favourite packaged foods have chicory root fibre, that’s great.
You’ll get prebiotic fibre from the root, but not as much caffeine as you would from a regular cup of coffee. But like all foods, it’s not a surefire way to stay healthy.
What is the root of chicory?
Chicory root has been around for hundreds of years, but only in the last few years has it become popular with food manufacturers and the general public.
Chicory is a leafy plant that grows a lot in the northwestern part of Europe. We harvest its roots and leaves.
People like the roots because they have a lot of soluble fibre, especially inulin. Inulin is a natural soluble dietary fibre, which means it dissolves in water. This type of fibre slows down digestion, keeps you full longer, keeps blood sugar levels even, and lowers cholesterol.
Manufacturers get inulin from natural sources and use it as a functional fibre to make processed foods with more fibre.
Chicory root is one of the most common places to find inulin. Jerusalem artichokes, onion, garlic, and leeks are also good sources of inulin.
People also eat the leaves of chicory, which look like dandelion leaves. The roots can be turned into a separate fibre, or they can be boiled and eaten on their own.
People often mix up Cichorium endivia, or endive, with chicory root. Even though both belong to the same genus, the root fibre is taken from the common chicory plant, Cichorium intybus, and not from the endive species.
What does it do?
One of the first uses of chicory roots seems to have been as a substitute for coffee when there wasn’t enough coffee around hundreds of years ago. Even though chicory doesn’t have caffeine like coffee beans do, it tastes a lot like coffee.
So, chicory root coffee might be a good option for people who want coffee but don’t want to drink too much caffeine. The chicory root was dried and ground to make this coffee substitute.
Chicory root is used in food and drinks today for much more than just replacing coffee. Aside from eating it, some people even use it as medicine in very concentrated forms.
Some people put chicory paste on their skin to reduce inflammation, while others eat it to treat gallbladder and liver problems, as well as high blood pressure.
At the moment, we need more proof to know if chicory really helps with these conditions. There is, however, a lot of good research that shows chicory is good for the digestive system.
What good things does chicory root do for your body?
There has been a lot of information and news coverage about the benefits of fibre, but inulin from chicory root has a lot of benefits of its own.
Improves digestion: Chicory has dietary fibre, which is good for the digestive system and can help keep you regular and stop you from getting constipated.
Promotes a healthy gut microbiome: You may have heard of probiotics, which are living organisms in your intestine that help with digestion and other things, but have you heard of prebiotics? Think of prebiotics as the food that probiotics need to grow and stay healthy.
Chicory has a substance called inulin, which is a type of prebiotic. Because of this, it may help these good bacteria grow.
Encourages regular bowel movements and lowers the risk of colon cancer. One study found that people who took an inulin supplement made from chicory root had more frequent and softer stools. This is a big benefit of using chicory root because research has shown that having fewer bowel movements is linked to a higher risk of colon cancer.
Helps control blood sugar: Another benefit of inulin is that it helps control blood sugar. In a study with women with Type 2 diabetes, those who took inulin supplements had lower blood sugar when they were fasting and more antioxidants in their bodies.
Is there anything bad that can happen if you eat chicory root?
Even though there are known benefits of chicory root, it may not be for everyone. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) keeps a list of things that are “Generally Regarded as Safe” (GRAS). This means that chicory root is safe to eat.
This is a reference to the chicory that is used in processed foods, which is how most of us may eat it.
But people should be careful if they want to take chicory in higher doses for medical purposes. Possible side effects of a high-fiber diet, which happen often, include:
- abdominal pain
There isn’t much research on using chicory while pregnant or breastfeeding right now, so it’s best to be careful and talk to your health care team before using chicory root in these situations.
Should you eat chicory root, or are there better things you could do?
Inulin is a fibrous part of chicory that can be eaten in many different ways. It has many of the benefits listed above.
Even though onion, garlic, and leeks all have inulin in them, the amount of inulin in something like a breakfast bar is probably higher.
We need all kinds of fibre in our diet, and chicory is a good way to get enough of it. But if side effects like those above start to happen, you should cut back on how much chicory root you eat.
Chicory root is often added to processed foods and drinks as a source of fibre. Based on the research we have right now, it is probably safe for the general public to eat.
As a dietitian, I always tell people to get most of their food and fibre from whole, natural foods and not too much from processed foods.
But if a person is having trouble getting enough fibre and a processed food with chicory root can help them meet their fibre needs, it makes sense to include these products along with other high-quality foods.