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Chicory – perfect for people who abhor bland

For some palates, the slightly bitter taste of chicory takes some getting used to. But it is precisely the bitter substances that make chicory so valuable from a nutritional point of view. They promote better digestion by stimulating your metabolism and the production of gastric fluids.

Trend to milder varieties

Today, chicory contains comparatively few bitter substances. Plant breeders have responded to the wishes of consumers and developed milder varieties. In the past, you were advised to remove the bitter stalk, today you can use virtually the whole chicory head. Simply slice off the root end. If you think the leaves still taste too bitter, add a teaspoon of sugar to the cooking water.

A versatile vegetable

Chicory can be prepared in different ways. Probably best-known is as part of a raw salad – combined with clementines, apples, fennel, avocado or lamb's lettuce. This mix creates a wonderful balance to the chicory’s slight bitterness. But you can also cook chicory – it is delicious as part of a stir-fry, in an open vegetable tart, in a risotto or baked in a cheesy white sauce. Cut into strips and simmered with a little butter and broth, it makes a delicate side dish. Chicory is ideal for slimmers – only 16 kilocalories per 100 g. And it is a valuable source of healthy substances such as beta-carotene, vitamins B1, B2 and C, folic acid and potassium.

How chicory is grown

Cultivated chicory is closely related to wild chicory. Growers harvest the chicory roots in autumn and temporarily store them in cold stores. A few at a time are then placed in troughs and regularly bathed in a lukewarm nutrient solution so that within a few weeks, the delicate leaves begin to sprout. They are kept in absolute darkness, so that no green chlorophyll forms and the leaves remain pale.

Buying and storing chicory

Chicory is available year round, but the main season is from November to April. Choose chicory heads that look fresh and crisp. The leaves should be white with green-yellow tips and no signs of limpness. Avoid heads which are already green, as they are likely to taste bitter. The heads will stay crisp for a few days in the vegetable compartment of your fridge.

 

Source: Heike Kreutz, www.bzfe.de