What is chicory coffee?

Chicory coffee and beignets at the Cafe Du Mond in New Orleans

by Matt Gibson

What the heck is chicory coffee? Chicory is the ground root of the large rooted chicory plant, known scientifically as Chicorium Intybus Sativum. The plant is also known as coffee chicory, as it is commonly used to make a coffee substitute or additive, due to the similar aroma and flavor of its roots. Chicory contains no caffeine, but the grounded root is more water soluble than coffee, so less is needed compared to coffee, to make a strongly flavored drink. 

Coffee Chicory is a close cousin to another subspecies of Chicorium Intybus which is commonly known as French Endive. Though it is viewed as an invasive weed in the US, in Europe, it’s a widely cultivated vegetable with many common uses. The roots are either used to feed livestock, or processed to create inulin, a sweetener that is commonly added to reduced-calorie foods. The blanched leafy greens can be used in salads and other fresh fare. Though related, endive and chicory each have their own unique appeal. Chicory is primarily cultivated for its roots, which are ground and used as a coffee substitute or additive.

Chicory root naturally contains no caffeine, so if you really love the taste of coffee but can’t stand the way it makes you feel because of the caffeine, give chicory a try and see if you don’t like it better. 

Uses for Chicory

There are not a lot of uses for chicory beyond the use of the ground herbs to make a coffee additive or replacement. Other than being brewed to make a coffee-like beverage, people don’t seem to put chicory to very much use. However, in the world of coffee, chicory is a common name. In New Orleans, where chicory and coffee go hand-in-hand, people drink chicory with their coffee to this day. In fact, if you’re ever in New Orleans, you should order a café au lait at a local coffee shop. You will get a blend of coffee and chicory served with boiled milk. 

Though chicory has not been used widely in other applications besides coffee brewing throughout history, it has been used as a livestock feed dating all the way back to the early 17th century. The root of the plant may have occasionally been used as a food in desperate times, but it was likely not relied upon too heavily, as it is very bitter tasting. 

History of Chicory Coffee 

When Napoleon instituted the Continental Blockade in 1808, it blocked France off from the majority of its coffee shipments. In France, and in countries with a dominant French cultural influence, using chicory as a coffee alternative became very popular. But the French were using chicory as a coffee substitute because they had little to no choice.

Once the tradeways were reopened and coffee was back on the market, chicory use plummeted, except for in New Orleans, where chicory and coffee are just a part of the culture. This most likely is because of shortages experienced during the civil war, but unlike in most places around the world with french influence, the use of chicory in New Orleans never faded away when coffee reappeared in the markets.

To this day, many people from New Orleans still use a chicory and coffee blend to make their coffees, and most coffee made in New Orleans still contains a blend of chicory root. 

Health Benefits of Chicory

A member of the dandelion family, the chicory plant is small in stature, with a tough, hairy stem, abundant green leaves and purple flowers. Chicory root has long ties to natural and alternative medicines due to its many nutritional values. This is partially due to the presence of inulin in chicory root, which has been linked to increased weight loss and gut bacteria health. 

Nutritional Value of Chicory 

Each chicory root individually weighs around 60 grams, contains only 44 calories, and is composed of about 0.8 grams of protein, 10.5 grams of carbs, 0.9 grams of fiber and only 0.1 grams of fat. Chicory also contains Vitamin B6 and C, Potassium, Phosphorus, Folate, and Manganese, though these nutrients will only be present in very low amounts in chicory coffee. This is because only a small amount of chicory root is needed to brew chicory coffee, so the presence of these nutrients will be low as well. 

Chicory for Digestive Health

Chicory root has long been tied to digestive health due to the presence of inulin, a prebiotic fiber that has been shown to improve digestive health. Chicory root is a great source of inulin, though you only get a little bit through drinking chicory coffee. Inulin is an excellent fiber for gut health, and it impacts your digestive system in several different ways. It can increase bowel movements and improve the amount of healthy bacteria present in your colon.

Chicory has been studied as a laxative supplement, and showed positive results, both in increasing the frequency of bowel movements, and in softening the stool. Chicory has also shown the ability to increase regularity amongst elderly people.   

Chicory for Inflammation

While nearly everyone deals with some form of inflammation issues throughout one’s lifetime, chronic inflammation can lead to some pretty serious health problems, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Though more tests are needed to see how chicory might affect inflammation in the human body, several tests have been conducted that show chicory’s ability to lower inflammation in animals. 

Chicory for Lowering Blood Sugar

One type of the fiber chicory contains is called inulin, and in studies involving both people and animals, inulin showed it can help manage blood sugar. Not only did participants in the studies show better managed blood sugar overall, inulin also lowered insulin resistance. Insulin resistance occurs when blood sugar levels are high. It makes the insulin less effective and can contribute to high blood sugar.

Chicory as a Coffee Alternative

The flavor of chicory is similar to coffee, so it is popular both as a coffee addition and as a substitute for the popular drink. The beverage is made from roasted chicory roots and tastes like coffee with nutty and woody notes. Because of the health benefits of chicory, it is popular with those working to control their diet and those looking to lower caffeine consumption. Although the flavor of roasted chicory is similar to that of coffee, drinks made with chicory alone contain no caffeine.

Chicory Coffee Brands to Consider

There are several brands of chicory coffee that are available out of the New Orleans area. You can find many of the following brands on grocery store shelves around the world, not just in the city itself. If you are interested in the taste of coffee blended with chicory root, check out some of the pre-made blends that come directly from the city itself. 

Cafe Du Monde – Coffee and Chicory

Cafe Du Monde first got its start as an open-air specialty coffee shop on Decatur street in the heart of the french quarter. Fast forward to today, and they not only have multiple locations in New Orleans, but they also have their products on the shelves of grocery stores around the world. For a rich, original blend of coffee and ground chicory root, Cafe Du Monde is an excellent choice. 

French Market – Coffee and Chicory 

French Market coffee started out with a medium roast that earned a reputation for being one of the tastiest coffee and chicory blends on the market. Recently, they have expanded their offerings, in a new marketing move in which they expanded from the single medium roast red original can of coffee and chicory, to a whole line of bagged coffee, including a new dark roast, a French roast, and several other flavored options, including hazelnut and French vanilla, as well as their original medium roast chicory and coffee blend, which is now known as their creole roast. 

Community Coffee – Coffee and Chicory

Community Coffee got its start in New Orleans. It’s built on four generations of coffee making expertise. Their Coffee & Chicory Blend combines roasted chicory root with Arabica coffee beans. The flavor is both sweeter and stronger than that of coffee without chicory. Community Coffee recommends serving their Coffee & Chicory Blend with steamed milk for a traditional cafe au lait drink.

Luzianne Premium Blend – Coffee Mellowed with Chicory

Although most people think of tea when they hear the name Luzianne, this brand also offers coffee. Included in their blends is Coffee Mellowed with Chicory. The Coffee Mellowed with Chicory blend avoids bitterness and, as the name suggests, tones down the stronger flavors of coffee alone.

Allergy Alert – Some people are allergic to chicory, and can have reactions such as pain, swelling, and tingling in the mouth. Persons sensitive to ragweed and birch pollen should steer clear of chicory, as they are likely susceptible to be allergic to chicory as well. 

Caution – Pregnant or nursing women should also avoid consuming chicory, as it has been known to cause menstrual bleeding and can lead to miscarriage. 

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