Fresh chicory root is composed of 68% inulin by dry weight. Chicory inulin is not digestible and can be used to replace dietary fat or sugar in some processed and functional foods. Chicory root is also commonly used in the preparation of a bitter, caffeine-free coffee substitute.
Inulin is a type of fiber known as a fructan or fructooligosaccharide, a carbohydrate made from a short chain of fructose molecules that your body doesn’t digest. It acts as a prebiotic, meaning that it feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut. These helpful bacteria play a role in reducing inflammation, fighting harmful bacteria, and improving mineral absorption.
One-half cup of 1-inch pieces of raw chicory root provides:
- Calories: 32
- Fat: 0.1g
- Sodium: 22.5mg
- Carbohydrates: 7.9g
- Fiber: 0.7g
- Sugars: 3.9g
- Protein: 0.6g
- Potassium: 130mg
- Calcium: 18.4mg
- Phosphorus: 27.4mg
- Folate: 10.4mc
Chicory root has one of the highest fiber contents of vegetables, accounting for almost 90% of its weight when dried.
Most people are more likely to consume chicory root (inulin) in processed foods as an added fiber. Because it can add to the feeling of satiety, common foods like protein powders, low-sugar cereals, and snack-replacement bars frequently contain chicory.
Studies suggest that inulin can relieve constipation. A 4-week study in 44 adults with constipation found that taking 12 grams of chicory inulin per day helped soften stool and significantly increased bowel movement frequency, compared with taking a placebo.
In a study in 16 people with low stool frequency, taking a daily dose of 10 grams of chicory inulin increased the number of bowel movements from 4 to 5 per week, on average.
Chicory root fiber may boost blood sugar control, especially in people with diabetes. This may be due to its inulin, which promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria involved in carbohydrate metabolism, which breaks down carbs into sugars, and sensitivity to insulin, the hormone that helps absorb sugar from the blood.
Chicory root fiber contains the compounds chicoric and chlorogenic acids, which have been shown to increase muscle sensitivity to insulin in rodent studies.
A 2-month study in 49 women with type 2 diabetes found that taking 10 grams of inulin per day led to significant decreases in blood sugar levels and hemoglobin A1c, a measurement of average blood sugar, compared with taking a placebo. The inulin used in this study is known as high-performance inulin and often added to baked goods and drinks as a sugar substitute. It has a slightly different chemical composition than other types of inulin.
One 2015 study tested the effects of chicory root extract on blood sugar and fat metabolism. Study authors concluded that, while chicory had no effect on fat metabolism, it could delay or prevent the early onset of diabetes.
A 2016 study also found that chicory, along with providing glucose and calcium stability, may reduce blood pressure, and aid in healthy liver function. This study’s subjects were all female, so more research is needed to learn whether it provides the same effects for males.
Some studies have connected chicory root with inhibiting different types of cancer. Research that found that chicory helps kill breast cancer cells. Another study linked inulin with the prevention of colon cancer.
People sometimes use chicory topically for swelling, inflammation, and osteoarthritis. An industry-funded study demonstrated that taking a chicory supplement may play a role in the management of osteoarthritis.
Chicory root fiber is easy to add to your diet. It’s increasingly common to see chicory root processed for its inulin, which is used to increase fiber content in processed foods or used as a sugar or fat substitute due to its gelling properties and slightly sweet flavor. It can be used in home cooking as well. Some specialty shops and grocery stores carry the whole root, which is often boiled and eaten as a vegetable.
Chicory root allergy is rare, with only about 20 cases reported in the last century, and most of these cases involving people who work with chicory and inhale it.
If you are allergic to birch pollen, you may have a reaction to chicory. This is referred to as oral allergy syndrome and occurs when proteins in a fruit or vegetable are similar to those found in pollen.
In the United States, inulin has attained Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status by the FDA. This means that chicory is likely safe when consumed in amounts typically present in foods. Some people may experience symptoms including flatulence, belching, abdominal pains, intestinal sounds, and bloating when eaten in excess.
Research has also not yet established the safety of chicory during pregnancy, so people who are pregnant may want to avoid consuming this vegetable or talk with their healthcare practitioner first.
The inulin that’s used in packaged foods or supplements is sometimes chemically altered to make it sweeter. If inulin has not been modified, it’s usually referred to as “native inulin”. Studies suggest that native inulin may be better tolerated and lead to fewer episodes of gas and bloating than other types.
10 grams of inulin per day is a standard dose for studies but no official recommended dosage for chicory root fiber has been established. If you want to take it as a supplement, it’s best to consult your healthcare provider beforehand.
How to Buy
Chicory root in its whole form is not commonly found in U.S. supermarkets. However, you are likely to find salad chicory (endive) in the produce sections of many grocery stores. Endive and its cousins – radicchio, frisée, and escarole – are bitter greens that are referred to as chicories.
Two chicory root varieties grown to be used as coffee substitutes are Brunswick and Magdeburg.
How to Store
To keep ground chicory fresh, store it in an airtight container, much the same way you would ground coffee. Salad chicory should be stored wrapped in a tea towel in the refrigerator, where it will last for about a week or so.
If you do find chicory roots, they should be stored in a cold, humid location, where they will last for several months.
How to Cook
When consumed as a food, chicory roots can be boiled and the leaves (endive), buds, and roots can be eaten like a vegetable.
You can roast the root or buy roasted ground chicory root to use in coffee or alone as a coffee substitute. To make it, add 2 tablespoons of ground chicory root for every 1 cup of water in your coffeemaker.
Chicory root has an earthy or woody taste somewhat similar to coffee and contains no caffeine.