What Is Chicory—and What Does It Have to Do With Coffee?
You may have heard of chicory (perhaps on a trip to New Orleans), and you might’ve even tasted it. But what the heck is chicory—and why is it in your coffee?
What Is Chicory?
Rosmarie Wirz/Getty Images
Chicory, or Cichorium intybus, is a woody, herbaceous plant in the dandelion family. It usually has bright blue flowers, though they can sometimes be white or pink.
The plant itself can be quite pretty, but chicory is cultivated for its leaves and its roots. Chicory roots are baked, ground, and often used as a coffee substitute or additive.
It’s also a common forage crop for livestock, which means it’s often planted for grazing cattle or other hungry farm animals.
Native to Eurasia, chicory is grown all over the world. It’s commonly found growing wild along roadsides or in other untamed areas.
What Does Chicory Taste Like?
Ground chicory root tastes quite similar to ground coffee beans. People describe its intense taste as warm, nutty, woody, and earthy.
Chicory leaves can be eaten raw, though they can be quite bitter. Cooking or blanching can help reduce this bitterness.
Chicory and Coffee
Experts aren’t sure when chicory root was first used as a substitute for coffee, though references to it being used as an additive date back to colonial America.
The French were forced to use the plant’s roots instead of coffee in the early 19th century, as Napoleon’s Continental Blockade made coffee inaccessible for much of the country.
Even after the blockade was lifted, people in France continued to add the ground root to their coffee—they believed it improved its flavor and improved their overall health (more on that in a minute).
It was this French influence that brought the chicory and coffee combo to Louisiana in the 19th century.
Chicory consumption across the U.S. increased dramatically during the Civil War, as blockades and trade issues prevented people from getting their coffee deliveries.
Once the war was over, people around the country began to turn their backs on chicory—everywhere except for in Louisiana, particularly New Orleans.
“We have consumed coffee and chicory for over two hundred years and will do so for another two hundred,” reads text found on the Orleans Coffee website.
Today, chicory is consumed blended with coffee and warm milk. However, many people choose to forego coffee altogether in favor of a drink made from the flavorful root.
Chicory Health Benefits
Chicory coffee is extremely popular with regular coffee-loving people who are trying to reduce their caffeine intake—it tastes similar, but doesn’t cause the jitters.
Chicory root is a good source of inulin, a type of prebiotic fiber that has been linked to increased weight loss and improved gut health, according to Healthline. It also contains some nutrients that promote brain health like manganese and vitamin B6.
It may aid in digestion, lower blood sugar, or reduce inflammation.
However, chicory consumption can negatively affect some people. It can trigger symptoms of an allergic reaction—like pain, swelling and tingling of the mouth—in some people, especially those who have ragweed or birch pollen allergies.
Chicory is also not recommended for women who are pregnant or who are breastfeeding, as some experts believe it can produce negative effects.
Ready to taste chicory in your coffee to see what all the fuss is about? If you like it, you may want to try one of our best recipes using the flavorful plant: