How to Eat a Pomegranate
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Some foods are just plain intimidating, and I’ve historically counted whole pomegranates among them.
Unlike other fruits, whose edible flesh lies directly under the skin, a pomegranate’s edible part is actually the hundreds of little juice-filled …

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Home » GFF (Gluten-free friendly), Gustatory Ruminations

Chicory: a prebiotic’s secret life unearthed

Submitted by on February 28, 2009 – 6:41 pm13 Comments
 
Roasted chicory root

Roasted chicory root

In the nutrition world, prebiotics are the new black.

I’m reading about them everywhere, and seeing them added to more and more foods in the supermarket each time I go.

Even if you haven’t heard of them, it’s likely that you’ve eaten them.  Prebiotics are simply a specific type of soluble fiber that people cannot digest, but the friendly bacteria in our guts can.  In other words, prebiotics are food for “probiotics,” or the health-promoting bacteria that live in our intestines and help protect us from diarrhea-causing pathogenic bacteria.  As probiotic bacteria grow and thrive while they feast on prebiotics, they throw off all sorts of beneficial digestive by-products called short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs).  Lots of research into the health benefits of these SCFAs is emerging, and they are being credited with outcomes ranging from regularity to colon cancer prevention to inducing remissions in patients with inflammatory bowel diseases like Ulcerative Colitis.   It’s exciting stuff, to be sure, but don’t let your zeal for digestive nirvana send you into a prebiotic feeding frenzy just yet.  After all, things that your gut bacteria digest for you produce gas as a by-product.  Go slow and you shall reap the rewards without suffering a flatulent fate.

There are many types of fiber that act as prebiotics, but the most common one you’re likely to come across is called inulin. While there’s a modest amount of it in onions and asparagus, the two biggest food sources of inulin are Jerusalem artichokes and Chicory root.  Since we’ve discussed the former already at length in a previous post, we can turn our attention to the latter and ask the obvious question: what on earth is chicory?

The answer is a little-known bit of food trivia that surprised and delighted me.  As it turns out, chicory is the root of the same plant that has endive for the leaves!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Witlof_en_wortel.jpg

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Witlof_en_wortel.jpg

(Isn’t that picture wild?)  I always thought of endive as this really tailored, sophisticated, slightly stuffy French lettuce that existed to be eaten in a salad with apples or pears, blue cheese or goat cheese and walnuts, or perhaps to serve as a fancy boat-like carrier to hold dips and appetizers.  But on seeing its wild, untamed roots, I realized that perhaps I had judged Endive too quickly.

Chicory root is mostly processed to yield its inulin fiber, which is then added to all sorts of packaged foods for a variety of purposes.

  1. To help boost a food’s fiber content (e.g., energy bars like Luna Bars, Gnu bars, Target Market Pantry Fiber Bars, Fiber One bars, etc…)
  2. To help create a creamy “mouthfeel” in reduced-fat and reduced sugar products (e.g., lowfat/low calorie yogurts like Yoplait)
  3. To allow manufacturers to make health claims  about immunity and GI health (e.g., Stonyfield Farm yogurts, Knudsen/Breakstone’s LiveActive cottage cheese).

But you can’t exactly *taste* chicory when its all powdered and processed and hidden in a sugary yogurt or bar.  And by all accounts, chicory has got a nice sweet taste that’s worth experiencing.   Which is where chicory coffee comes in.  As it turns out, chicory has been used as a (caffeine-free) coffee substitute for ages. I first became tuned into this product when my sister decided to give up caffeine and used chicory coffee to wean herself off of the brew.  She recommended I try a brand called Teeccino, either the plain “coffee” variety or one of their flavored varieties, and mentioned it also tasted good iced.  I found it at Whole Foods, and was momentarily disappointed to read that in addition to chicory and some other natural ingredients, the product contained barley: a no-no for the celiac set due to its gluten content.  But then I read the claim that “brewed teeccino” is certified gluten free.  According to the manufacturer “the drip brewing process doesn’t extract gluten into the liquid, as you need alcohol to extract gluten, not boiling water. For gluten sensitive people, we advise using a paper filter to block any grounds from going into your cup that could potentially float through the filter chamber if you have a permanent filter that is more permeable than paper.”  (Thanks for the info, Teeccino!)  The verdict?  This stuff really does taste coffee-like!  It’s weaker, but it definitely shared the same character, and I could really see getting into it.  (In fact, here’s an open call to all chicory coffee drinkers to send in some preparation tips for us novices!)

I should also point out that there are some instant (rather than brewed) chicory beverages on the market that also contain barley.  This means that you end up drinking the actual grounds… rather than liquid filtered through the grounds, and the end product will *not* be gluten free.  (One such brand I saw like this was called “Pero“).  Fellow celiacs, beware.  But everyone else, enjoy!  

If you want your chicory with a little bit of real coffee, Cafe du Monde makes a blend of the two that they claim was invented by the French during their civil war when coffee was scarce.  Chicory was used as an ‘extender,’ if you will, and the flavor caught on.  The company says that chicory adds an almost chocolate flavor that rounds out the coffee’s bitterness.  Nestle in France makes a similar instant drink product called Ricore, if you happen to be living in Paris right now and want to pop into your local marche.  Apparently, roasted chicory is the secret to New Orleans-style coffee, so next time you’re down there for Jazzfest or Mardi Gras, look for it.

Before we exhaust the topic of chicory beverages, I should also note that brewed chicory coffees do not contain very much inulin/prebiotics.  Once again, according to Teeccino’s manufacturer, a 10 oz cup has less than one gram.  But between your Jersusalem artichokes, asparagus, onions, fortified yogurts, energy bars and what have you, there are plenty of other ways to get your prebiotic fix.

Alternatively, I’ve seen finely-ground chicory sold as a non-caloric, carbohydrate-free sugar-substitute that’s targeted at diabetics under the brand name Just Like Sugar.  As a non-digestible fiber, the inulin in ground chicory root shouldn’t raise blood glucose levels at all.  If you use it in small portions like you would sugar (like a teaspoon or two to sweeten your chicory coffee), the amount of actual dietary fiber you’ll get is negligible.  But in large portions (like if you downed the whole container), it would provide some dietary fiber.  So there you have it.  Chicory-based sweeteners are natural and non-caloric and nutritionally legit, if you’re interested in giving them a try.

So there you have it.  Everything you never realized you wanted to know about chicory.  Perhaps it will come in handy one day if you’re ever someone’s lifeline on ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: Root Edition’.

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13 Comments »

  • I enjoyed reading your informative article on chicory and appreciate your enthusiasm about Teeccino. Just want to make one correction. Teeccino does contain inulin which is a soluble fiber and naturally extracts from the chicory root into the brewed liquid. A 10 oz mug of Teeccino (2 cups in the drip coffee maker) has 650 mg of inulin. Since the average American diet provides only 2 grams a day from sources like wheat and garlic, a good source of natural inulin is needed as our ancestors ate 15 grams a day. By drinking several cups of Teeccino you can double your daily inulin intake!

    As for gluten, the drip brewing process doesn’t extract gluten into the liquid. You need alcohol to extract gluten, not boiling water. For gluten sensitive people, we advise using a paper filter to block any grounds from going into your cup that could potentially float through the filter chamber if you have a permanent filter that is more permeable than paper.

    By the way, my recommendation for avoiding flatulence when you increase your inulin content is to take a probiotic at the same time. The flatulence comes from the bacteria in the gut that you don’t want there, so if you supplement with the good bacteria, it will take over that much faster and you’ll avoid the gas production from the bad microbes. I’ve recommended this to people who get gas when they first start drinking Teeccino and it works perfectly every time!

    Yours in optimal health,

    Caroline MacDougall
    Founder / CEO Teeccino Caffé

  • Tamara says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Caroline! My post is updated to reflect the additional info you’ve provided, and I’m sure our gluten-free community appreciates the recommendations.

  • Carrie says:

    Thank you!!! Yours was one of the first sites I found with excellent info about GF coffee substitutes. I am now subscribing!

  • Tamara says:

    My pleasure! Thanks for subscribing!

  • seanorama says:

    Found 100% roasted ground chicory in the UK. No barley or other additives. Found in coffee and tea areas:
    Prewett’s Organic Chicory

    (Found at Waitrose and a some health food stores).

    Though you’d need to consume a lot of it. Each jar is 100g. 4.5g fibre per 100g.
    A typical serving is 1 heaping teaspoon.I think that’s about 5-8 grams.

  • karen says:

    Community Coffee in Baton Rouge, LA makes ground chicory which you can buy packaged just like coffee. You can order it on their website. In my opinion, pure chicory tastes better than Teecino. It has more body and is closer to the taste of real coffee.

    http://www.communitycoffee.com

  • Paula says:

    Recently a friend gave me a bushel of chicory root, and over the course an entire weekend, I processed it into roasted root powder to make chicory coffee (which yielded only 3/4 of a gallon for a bushel! That’s about a 2ft square box), and imagine my dismay to find that, making the very first batch in my french press, I had terrible gas all day long. The chicory coffee was the only “new” thing in my diet, so it looks as if even two cups of chicory (only) coffee can contribute to flatulence in a big way. I tried again, mixing it half and half with roasted dandelion root, and (luckily) did not experience the gut distress. A lot of these “chicory root” preparations in the stores, like Teeccino, only use chicory root for part of the ingredients, which, based on my experience, is probably a good thing!

  • pam simpson says:

    Hi Im on a no sugar diet at the moment due to colitis with chron’s. I’m trying the french roast bag and its very nice. I added some almond mild and its fine. There is a reaction when I poured in the almond milk with small amounts of dotted mild. No complaints here! Because i cant have sugar, i’m wondering how much I will get fro a cup. Thanks for a good product.

  • Ellen Bell says:

    I just spent two months with an undiagnosed colon issue, which included six hours of intense rectal pressure with every elimination cycle. In the meantime I was prescribed probiotics and a course of antibiotics at the same time to try and get my GI tract back on track. The probiotic was prescribed for two months. I was almost a month in and not experiencing any relief when I had lunch at an New Orleans cafe where I had two cups of chicory coffee. Wholla, there seemed to be a change in my symptoms. For the following days I drank 1/2 regular coffee with 1/2 chicory and the bowel pressure ceased, I am back to normal bowel movements. This from a girl who considers the measure of all good things by what is eliminated! Thankfully I was seeing a very smart GI nurse practitioner who refused to believe I needed a colonoscopy, which seemed like a logical step for me since we have a family history of colon cancer. How I got to the condition in the first place remains a mystery; the cure, coincidence? I don’t think so.

  • Patti says:

    FYI – I’m considering growing some chicory in my yard & read that “Chicory is the roasted and ground root of the cultivated plant species, Chicorium Intybus, subspecies Sativum…. Commercially available coffee chicory is not derived from the root of the endive plant. Endive is the sister species Chicorium Endivia…The root of Chicorium Endivia has undoubtedly been used in the past as a coffee subsitute, but it is not commercially used for that purpose today.” I’ll probably try both!

  • Jo says:

    Just want to weigh in on the brewed chicory: I’ve been drinking several cups of chicory a day over the past year, since giving up caffeinated beverages. My husband – a coffee drinker – enjoyed a cup in the late afternoon & evening. We both drink it black & strong, using this method: about a TB of Frontier roasted chicory root granules brewed in a little teapot that serves 2 cups. Use a tea strainer when pouring! I also enjoy it as a “dessert” beverage with a little blackstrap molasses & some almond milk. I also found an instant chicory powder on Amazon that I use for travel as well as a flavoring for some foods (carob nut butter fudge, for instance …)

    Thanks for the great photo of chicory!

  • Pearl says:

    Ricoffy, made by Nestle in South Africa,is a lively chicory and coffee blend and can be bought on world food shelves in some uk supermarkets.

  • Julie says:

    Question:

    I am reading about chicory root for the purpose of growing my own. I’m getting conflicting information on which endive plant it comes from. Or if it comes from endive at all (only a couple of sites say that).

    Does it come from curly endive or some other species of endive?

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