Common chicory (Cichorium intybus L.)
It is a perennial plant with the height of 0.2–1.2 m. It is most commonly found as a wild plant (var. intybus) on roadsides and pastures in the lowlands and foothills of Poland. Wild varieties are also found in other parts of Europe and northern Africa and Asia. The leaves and roots of this plant have medicinal properties, and have therefore been long used in folk medicine.
A decoction of the roots drunk as tea was used to treat gastric catarrh, indigestion, liver and kidney diseases, and jaundice. The roots of the wild varieties are also appreciated nowadays as they contain inulin, which protects against inflammation of the large intestine and neutralizes toxins (cleanses the body).
Besides naturally occurring wild varieties in Europe, northern Africa, Australia, New Zealand, India and North America, seed varieties are also cultivated, which are usually biennial plants. The thickened roots can be used for the production of natural coffee substitutes, and the leaves are nutritionally valuable animal feed. Grana offers products based on roasted chicory – under Chicorycup brand: www.chicorycup.com
The dry matter content in the roots of chicory seeds is approx. 76%. The dry matter consists of: carbohydrates, proteins, fats and minerals. The main carbohydrate is inulin, which belongs to fructans (soluble fraction of dietary fiber). Inulin is now regarded as one of the most popular dietary products to replace sugar and fat in foods. Besides inulin, the roots of chicory seed contain other carbohydrates, e.g. cellulose and hemicellulose (approx. 1.3 %), which belong to the non-soluble fiber group. Although they are not digested in the human digestive tract, they are an indispensable element of our daily diet.
The roots of chicory seed contain small quantities of protein (approx. 1.1%), fat (approx. 0.3%) and minerals (approx. 0.7–0.8%); therefore, their impact on the nutritional value is smaller than that of carbohydrates. The chicory root also includes triterpenes – biologically active compounds. Triterpenes have properties that can be extensively used in pharmacology, exhibit anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor and antiviral properties. This group includes, among others, sesquiterpene lactones, substances characterized by a strong bitter taste.
Consumers, however, are mostly familiar with the leafy witloof chicory, called Belgian endive (var. foliosum Hegi). It is grown in Europe, including Poland. Chicory leaf buds are valuable lettuce, and the roots are used as animal feed.
The roots of the chicory seed are worth consuming mainly because of the carbohydrates they contains, which include fructans, among them inulin possessing hypoglycemic properties (recommended for diabetics) and hipocholesterinemic properties (recommended for people with elevated levels of LDL-cholesterol and triglycerides).
Cultivation of chicory
Common chicory is a frequently found plant in the wild. It is cultivated in Asia, Europe, America and North Africa. The parts that grow above the ground – the stems – are thin and branched, with blue or sometimes white or pink flowers at the end. Anthodiums are open during the day. The roots are cone-shaped and brown, thick and bitter.
Herbs, flowers and roots of chicory are used in herbal medicine. Since the 18th century, chicory roots have been used to produce beverages which are popular coffee substitutes.
In Poland, chicory is sowed in April and May. Harvesting with combines usually takes place between September and November. First, the leaves are cut off and then the roots are dug out. The root from which the green parts are removed is transported to a processing plant. The roots are thoroughly cleaned to remove soil; they are rinsed and transferred to be cut. The cut pieces of roots are arranged in thin layers on the conveyor and then are sent to be dried. Roots prepared in this manner are placed in an oven and roasted at a high temperature reaching even 600 degrees Celsius. In the next step, they are cooled down and seasoned for approximately 2 to 3 weeks.