Chicory is one of those things you would never suspect would taste good because it is a weed (its closely related to the dandelion family). But it is the perfect, caffeine-free, coffee substitute with a strong, toasted, nutty flavor.
What is Chicory?
The Chicory plant is native to France, Northern Africa, and Western Asia but is, now mainly, produced in France, South Africa, and North America. Chicory is a weed that has purple flowers with a long, singular root that is roasted, ground, then brewed for coffee or boiled and eaten as a vegetable. When chicory is roasted, the inulin in it caramelizes and reduces the root’s natural bitterness and giving it a dark-brown color.
What Exactly is Chicory Coffee?
The true origin of chicory is unknown it is suspected that chicory was first cultivated in Ancient Egypt for medicinal purposes. Chicory has been mentioned by Roman authors Horace, Virgil, Ovid, and Pliny and historical records even show Greeks using it as a vegetable in their salads.
In the 17th century, chicory was cultivated for animal food. In 1808, this changed when Napoleon established the “Continental Blockade” in France, cutting off the coffee imports. The French people quickly turned to chicory root to supplement their coffee. After the blockade ended, the trend of drinking chicory stayed and spread to French colonies, including Louisiana.
Chicory coffee grew in popularity in 19th century New Orleans during the Civil War when a Union naval blockade cut access to the ports, causing a coffee shortage. Since then, New Orleans has capitalized on its love of chicory coffee, as can be seen at the world-famous Café du Monde where they continue to serve the well-known drink Café au Lait, made of rich, black coffee, high-quality chicory, and boiled milk.
Proposed Health Benefits
Chicory coffee has many different proposed health benefits, due to its nutrients and caffeine-free nature. It has a high amount of inulin, a prebiotic fiber that increases weight loss and improves gut health through the growth of healthy bacteria. Chicory also contains both Manganese and Vitamin B6, which improve brain health. It also moderates heart rate, decreases blood sugar, and lowers cholesterol.
A Simple Chicory Coffee
Since chicory coffee comes from chicory root, it undergoes a long roasting, grinding, and brewing process, like green coffee beans. Chicory coffee can be brewed using any brewing method from drip-coffee to a French Press, if you have the right proportions. For every 2/3 cup ground coffee, use 1/3 cup chicory.
Some people like to drink a straight cup of chicory coffee, without any coffee in it, but many have to work their way up to this since chicory has such a strong, pervasive flavor. If you want to make a traditional Café au Lait, add boiled milk to your coffee at a 1:1 ratio. For additional flavor, you can add different spices, such as cinnamon, cloves, or nutmeg, into the brewing mixture.
Chicory coffee has a rich history with practical, present applications. It is found it place in the world, again, as people turn to it for the health benefits and caffeine-free, coffee-like taste.