Witloof chicory (Cichorium intybus) is aweedy-looking plant. That’s not surprising, as it’s related to the dandelionand has frilly, pointed dandelion-like leaves. What is surprising is thatwitloof chicory plants have a double life. This same weed-like plant isresponsible for the production of chicons, a bittersweet winter salad green,which is a culinary delicacy in the U.S.
Witloof chicory is an herbaceous biennial,which was grown centuries ago as a cheap substitute for coffee. Like thedandelion, witloof grows a large taproot. It was this taproot that Europeanfarmers grew, harvested, stored and ground as their knock-off java. Then abouttwo hundred years ago, a farmer in Belgium made a startling discovery. Thewitloof chicory roots he’d stored in his root cellar had sprouted. But theydidn’t grow their normal dandelion-like leaves.
Instead, the chicoryroots grew a compact, pointed head of leaves much like cos lettuce. What’smore, the new growth was bleached white from lack of sunlight. It had a crispytexture and a creamy sweet flavor. The chicon was born.
It took a few years, but the chicon caught on and commercialproduction spread this unusual vegetable beyond the borders of Belgium. Due toits lettuce-like qualities and creamy white color, the chicon was marketed aswhite or Belgian endive.
Today, the United States imports approximately $5 millionworth of chicons annually. Domestic production of this vegetable is limited,but not because witloof chicory plants are difficult to grow. Rather, thedevelopment of the second stage of growth, the chicon, requires exactconditions of warmth and humidity.
Growing witloof chicory is, indeed, an experience. It allbegins with the cultivation of the taproot. The witloof chicory seeds can besown directly into the ground or started indoors. Timing is everything, as adelay in transplanting into the garden can affect the quality of the taproot.
There’s nothing especially difficult about growing witloofchicory roots. Treat them as you would any root vegetable. Plantthis chicory in full sun, spacing plants 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm.)apart. Keep them weeded and watered. Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers toencourage root development and prevent the overproduction of leaves. Witloofchicory is ready for harvest in the fall around the time of first frost. Ideally,the roots will be about 2 inches (5 cm.) in diameter.
Once harvested, the roots can be stored for a period of timebefore beingforced. The leaves are cut off approximately 1 inch (2.5 cm.) above thecrown, side roots are removed and the taproot is shortened to 8 to 10 inches(20 to 25 cm.) long. The roots are stored on their side in sand or sawdust.Storage temperatures are kept between 32 to 36 degrees F. (0 to 2 C.) with 95%to 98% humidity.
As needed, taproots are brought out of storage forwintertime forcing. They are replanted, completely covered to exclude alllight, and maintained between 55 to 72 degrees F. (13 to 22 C.). It takesapproximately 20 to 25 days for the chicon to reach marketable size. The resultis a tightly formed head of fresh salad greens which can be enjoyed in the deadof winter.
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Famous for the forced, blanched heads or ‘chicons’ that are loved by gourmets Chicory 'Brussels Witloof' is the traditional finely-textured variety used for forcing. It produces tightly packed high-quality leaves and is one of the finest tasting winter vegetables.
Witloof (meaning 'white leaf' in Flemish) has a delicious, tangy, unique flavour, very easy to grow, it needs to be blanched to obtain the characteristic pale yellow, but can be cut young for use without blanching.
Raw, cooked, baked, roasted, caramelised, stewed, sweet or savory, there are endless ways to enjoy Witloof chicory. It is served in most of central Europe as a hot dish, but also used occasionally in a salad. Use it raw for dipping, filling or chopped in salads. It can also be cooked, baked, roasted, caramelized, stewed, sweet or savory.
Growing Belgian Endive at home is easier than you might think, it does take time, around 9 to 10 months but even though it seems like long time to wait for a harvest, the labour involved is minimal. It is tolerant of both poor soils and partial shade.
Sow seed in March or April, a little thinning a weeding in May and June, no fertiliser or water needed in the summer, and then dig the roots up in October. A day to dry off in the sun, and then the roots are potted up in a long-tom clay pot, and placed in storage until December.
If you are looking for another way to augment your winter storage vegetables like roots, potatoes and cabbage, and you are craving something really fresh-picked, why not grow a crop of Belgian Endive
Chicory prefers a light well dug soil which is reasonably fertile but it is tolerant of poor soil. It can be grown in full sun or partial shade. It's a good crop for growing between rows of peas and sweet corn. At the beginning of the season the chicory will get full sun. As the season progresses the growing peas / sweet corn will shade the chicory from the full sun.
Sowing: Sow indoors from March or sow direct after frosts have passed.
Seeds germinate best in soils around 16 to 18°C (60 to 65°F) Germination in 7 to 14 days.
Keep evenly moist for the tenderest leaves. Leaves that are stressed due to water shortage will turn bitter and taste terrible. It will withstand light frosts.
Sow into open flats or in cell packs 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost. Sow seeds in moist growing mix and thin to 1 plant every 5cm (2in) once seedlings have sprouted the first set of true leaves. Transplant seedlings outdoors when they are 10cm (4in) tall. Make sure the soil is moist and the seedlings do not dry out. Water well until they are firmly established.
Sow into prepared beds as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring. Successive seedings ensures a continual harvest. Sow seeds every two weeks through to autumn. Sow 1 to 2 seeds every 10cm (4in). Sow 7mm (¼in) deep in rows 20cm (8in) apart. Once they are established, thin plants to 20cm (8in) in each direction.
Seed sown early in the early summer should have produced good size plants by early autumn. Dig these up and transfer, planting into large containers. Use a good compost and sand. Trim the top of the plant off leaving a stub of plant about 3cm (1in) above ground level.
These should be covered with a bucket or something of similar size. A large plant pot is good but ensure the drainage holes are well covered to stop any light from getting in. Light will cause the leaves to be bitter tasting.
Place in a dark place at temperatures of around 10 to 15°C (50 to 60°F), a garage is ideal and in 3 to 6 weeks the plants should be about 20cm (8in) tall. At this time they can be harvested. The shoots will continue to grow back as you pick throughout winter so you'll have a continuous supply of crisp leaves. The leaves may get smaller after the first harvest.
Harvesting: 10 weeks to Maturity.
For baby leaf salad, harvested anytime after the leaves begin to open. Harvest the outer leaves as you need them.
It only takes a few weeks for the blanched chicons to sprout. If you use a black cloth or black plastic to block out the light. Shoots can be cut off just above the root top, and a second crop with fewer leaves can be harvested in a few weeks.
Clean off dirt and cool by immersing in chilled water. (Amazingly, this process is called “Hydro cooling” in the industry!) It can be stored at 0°C (32°F) for 2 to 3 weeks. It will deteriorate rapidly with increasing temperature.
Chicory is sensitive to ethylene gas so do not store with vegetables and fruits such as apples and pears.
Chicory describes a group of hardy annual or biennial cultivated plants developed from a common wild plant of Europe, western Asia, and Africa. Wild forms of endive grow in the same area as chicory, but extends farther to the east to India and beyond, including Siberia. The cultivated varieties are root chicory (Cichorium var. sativum) and salad chicory (Cichorium var. foliosum).
Chicory was introduced to England, Germany, Holland, and France in the 13th century. The French used it primarily for medicinal purposes to "comfort the weake and feeble stomack and to help gouty limbs and sore eyes".
Today, the main growing countries are Belgium, France, Holland, and Germany. The earliest mention of it in North America was in 1803, and ever since, has created confusion in the culinary world.
The cultivated varieties are root chicory (Cichorium var. sativum) and salad chicory (Cichorium var. foliosum). Root chicory was initially used as animal fodder, but later as the basis for ersatz coffee.
Salad chicory can be divided into four groups:
Radicchio (popular Italian variety),
Sugarloaf (a popular heading variety),
Large-leafed chicory, cutting or leaf chicory (Catalogna or asparagus chicory),
Belgian endive or witloof chicory (white or blanched varieties that originated in France and Belgium).
Belgian endive was first produced in 1830, by accident. The story goes that Jan Lammers, a Brussels farmer, stored chicory roots in his cellar, intending to dry and roast them for coffee (a common practice in 19th century Europe). But when Lammers returned to his farm after serving in the Belgian War of Independence, he had achieved quite different results. The roots, having rested for several months in the dark, had sprouted small, white leaves. Curious, Lammers took a taste and found the leaves to be tender, moist and crunchy.
By the 1870s, endive was popular in Paris and beyond and known as 'white gold'. In the north of France it is best known as 'Perle du Nord'.
As a Coffee Substitute:
Root chicory (Cichorium intybus var. sativum) has long been in cultivation in Europe as a coffee substitute. The cultivated chicory plant has a history reaching back to ancient Egyptian time. Medieval monks raised the plants and when coffee was introduced to Europe, the Dutch thought that chicory made a lively addition to the bean drink.
In the United Kingdom Camp Coffee, a coffee and chicory essence, has been on sale since 1885, it was especially popular during the Second World War.
The roots are baked, ground, and used as a coffee substitute and additive, especially in the Mediterranean region (where the plant is native), although its use as a coffee additive is also very popular in India, parts of Southeast Asia, South Africa and southern United States, particularly in New Orleans. It has also been popular as a coffee substitute in poorer economic areas, and has gained wider popularity during economic crises such as the Great Depression in the 1930s. Chicory, with sugar beet and rye was used as an ingredient of the East German Mischkaffee (mixed coffee), introduced during the "coffee crisis" of 1976-79.
Common chicory is also known as blue daisy, blue dandelion, blue sailors, blue weed, bunk, coffeeweed, cornflower, hendibeh, horseweed, ragged sailors, succory, wild bachelor's buttons, and wild endive  (note: "cornflower" is commonly applied to Centaurea cyanus). Common names for varieties of var. foliosum include endive, radicchio, radichetta, Belgian endive, French endive, red endive, sugarloaf, and witloof (or witlof).
When flowering, chicory has a tough, grooved, and more or less hairy stem. It can grow to 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) tall.  The leaves are stalked, lanceolate and unlobed they range from 10–32 cm (4– 12 1 ⁄2 in) in length and 2–8 cm ( 3 ⁄4 – 3 1 ⁄4 in) wide.  The flower heads are 3–4 cm ( 1 1 ⁄4 – 1 1 ⁄2 in) wide,  and usually light purple or lavender it has also been described as light blue, and rarely white or pink.  Of the two rows of involucral bracts, the inner is longer and erect, the outer is shorter and spreading. It flowers from July until October.
Root chicory (Cichorium intybus var. sativum) has long been cultivated in Europe as a coffee substitute.  The roots are baked, roasted, ground, and used as an additive, especially in the Mediterranean region (where the plant is native). As a coffee additive, it is also mixed in Indian filter coffee, and in parts of Southeast Asia, South Africa, and the southern United States, particularly in New Orleans. In France a mixture of 60% chicory and 40% coffee is sold as Ricoré. It has been more widely used during economic crises such as the Great Depression in the 1930s and during World War II in Continental Europe. Chicory, with sugar beet and rye, was used as an ingredient of the East German Mischkaffee (mixed coffee), introduced during the "East German coffee crisis" of 1976–79. It is also added to coffee in Spanish, Greek, Turkish, Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian cuisines. 
Some beer brewers use roasted chicory to add flavor to stouts (commonly expected to have a coffee-like flavor). Others have added it to strong blond Belgian-style ales, to augment the hops, making a witlofbier, from the Dutch name for the plant.
The roots can also be cooked like parsnips. 
While edible raw, wild chicory leaves usually have a bitter taste, especially the older leaves.  The flavor is appreciated in certain cuisines, such as in the Ligurian and Apulian regions of Italy and also in the southern part of India. In Ligurian cuisine, wild chicory leaves are an ingredient of preboggion and in Greek cuisine of horta in the Apulian region, wild chicory leaves are combined with fava bean puree in the traditional local dish fave e cicorie selvatiche.  In Albania, the leaves are used as a spinach substitute, mainly served simmered and marinated in olive oil, or as ingredient for fillings of byrek. [ citation needed ]
By cooking and discarding the water, the bitterness is reduced, after which the chicory leaves may be sautéed with garlic, anchovies, and other ingredients. In this form, the resulting greens might be combined with pasta  or accompany meat dishes. 
Chicory may be cultivated for its leaves, usually eaten raw as salad leaves. Cultivated chicory is generally divided into three types, of which there are many varieties: 
Although leaf chicory is often called "endive", true endive (Cichorium endivia) is a different species in the genus, distinct from Belgian endive.
Around 1970, it was found that the root contains up to 20% inulin, a polysaccharide similar to starch. Inulin is mainly found in the plant family Asteraceae as a storage carbohydrate (for example Jerusalem artichoke, dahlia, yacon, etc.). It is used as a sweetener in the food industry with a sweetening power 10% that of sucrose  and is sometimes added to yogurts as a 'prebiotic'. 
Fresh chicory root may contain between 13 and 23% inulin, by total weight. 
Raw chicory leaves are 92% water, 5% carbohydrates, 2% protein, and contain negligible fat (table). In a 100 gram reference amount, raw chicory leaves provide 23 calories and significant amounts (more than 20% of the Daily Value) of vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, some B vitamins, and manganese. Vitamin E and calcium are present in moderate amounts. Raw endive is 94% water and has low nutrient content.
The bitter substances are primarily the two sesquiterpene lactones, lactucin and lactucopicrin. Other ingredients are aesculetin, aesculin, cichoriin, umbelliferone, scopoletin, 6,7-dihydrocoumarin, and further sesquiterpene lactones and their glycosides. 
Chicory root contains essential oils similar to those found in plants in the related genus Tanacetum.  In traditional medicine, chicory has been listed as one of the 38 plants used to prepare Bach flower remedies. 
Chicory is highly digestible for ruminants and has a low fiber concentration.  Chicory roots are an "excellent substitute for oats" for horses due to their protein and fat content.  Chicory contains a low quantity of reduced tannins  that may increase protein utilization efficiency in ruminants. [ citation needed ]
Some tannins reduce intestinal parasites.   Dietary chicory may be toxic to internal parasites, with studies of ingesting chicory by farm animals having lower worm burdens, leading to its use as a forage supplement.    Although chicory might have originated in France, Italy, and India,  much development of chicory for use with livestock has taken place in New Zealand. 
Others varieties known include 'Chico', 'Ceres Grouse', 'Good Hunt', 'El Nino' and 'Lacerta'. 
Chicory is native to western Asia, North Africa, and Europe.  The plant has a history reaching back to ancient Egypt. [ citation needed ] In ancient Rome, a dish called puntarelle was made with chicory sprouts.  It was mentioned by Horace in reference to his own diet, which he describes as very simple: "Me pascunt olivae, me cichorea, me malvae" ("As for me, olives, endives, and mallows provide sustenance").  Chicory was first described as a cultivated plant in the 17th century.  When coffee was introduced to Europe, the Dutch thought that chicory made a lively addition to the bean drink. [ citation needed ] The plant was brought to North America by early European colonists. 
In 1766, Frederick the Great banned the importation of coffee into Prussia, leading to the development of a coffee substitute by Brunswick innkeeper Christian Gottlieb Förster (died 1801), who gained a concession in 1769/70 to manufacture it in Brunswick and Berlin. By 1795, 22 to 24 factories of this type were in Brunswick.   Lord Monboddo describes the plant in 1779  as the "chicoree", which the French cultivated as a pot herb. In Napoleonic Era France, chicory frequently appeared as an adulterant in coffee, or as a coffee substitute.  Chicory was also adopted as a coffee substitute by Confederate soldiers during the American Civil War, and has become common in the United States. It was also used in the United Kingdom during the Second World War, where Camp Coffee, a coffee and chicory essence, has been on sale since 1885. [ citation needed ]
In the United States, chicory root has long been used as a substitute for coffee in prisons.  By the 1840s, the port of New Orleans was the second-largest importer of coffee (after New York).  Louisianans began to add chicory root to their coffee when Union naval blockades during the American Civil War cut off the port of New Orleans, thereby creating a long-standing tradition. 
Chicory is also mentioned in certain silk-growing texts. The primary caretaker of the silkworms, the "silkworm mother", should not eat or even touch it. [ citation needed ]