Chicory in coffee can be a divisive topic: some hate it for replacing real coffee, and some say it's an important aspect of coffee culture. The truth is that chicory coffee has a long history, playing an important role in times of war, distress, and hardship. Let’s find out the secrets behind this coffee substitute and maybe you’ll be tempted to try coffee with chicory for yourself.
What Is Chicory Coffee?
Chicory is a herbaceous, flowering plant from the dandelion family that produces light purple flowers and has edible leaves and a hard, hairy stem. Chicory coffee is made using the roots of the chicory plant. The roots are ground, roasted, and then brewed to make a drink. The flavor of chicory root is remarkably similar to coffee, without the caffeine, and this is why chicory root has been used along with coffee or as a substitute.
The brew made from chicory root is described as nutty and earthy. The root can also be eaten as a vegetable while the flowers and leaves are often used in salads and to make flavored vinegar. The plant is native to north Africa, west Asia, and Europe and has been used by cultures in these regions for centuries. It was brought to North America by European colonists and is still in use for ‘New Orleans coffee’. Chicory root can also be found in China and Australia, where the plant has become naturalized.
Chicory has long been used as a coffee substitute in tough times but its use has persisted into modern times as an alternative to decaf coffee and to soften the flavors of dark-roasted coffee. Chicory root coffee is popular in parts of Europe and traditional Indian filter coffee. Numerous chicory coffee brands are now on the market, so it’s easier than ever to try coffee with chicory root.
A History of Coffee and Chicory
The earliest evidence of chicory use can be traced back to ancient Egypt, where it was used for its medicinal properties. Mentions of chicory have also been found in Greek and Roman texts. The widespread use of chicory and coffee was spurred on by a trade embargo under Napoleon in 1808. Under this continental blockade, there were rampant shortages of coffee in France since they imported their beans from England. Desperate to get their daily coffee, people turned to brewing chicory root to make a coffee substitute.
Later in the 19th century, chicory coffee rose to prominence during the American Civil War. Chicory root coffee was common in French colonies in North America, notably New Orleans. When the Union blockade cut off coffee supplies to the southern states, people in New Orleans turned back to their French roots and chicory coffee had a resurgence. Coffee with chicory root is still common in New Orleans and is an iconic part of the local food culture.
In more modern times, coffee with chicory root has cropped up during difficult world events. During wartime, chicory root coffee was commonly consumed by soldiers and poor people who didn’t have access to pure coffee. The Great Depression in the 1920s was another major resurgence of chicory coffee. Frost in Brazil combined with economic collapse made pure coffee a luxury few could afford and so coffee with chicory root became a staple for the masses.
Coffee and chicory have had a long and rich history, often punctuated with periods of unrest and hardship. These days, chicory remains the best substitute for coffee and an exciting way to explore history through food. Adding chicory to coffee is nothing new, and won’t be going away anytime soon.
How To Make Chicory Coffee
Brewing chicory coffee is similar to brewing your regular cup of coffee. You can either buy ground chicory root or pick your own if you live in areas with wild chicory. If you choose to grow or pick your own chicory, start harvesting by picking the complete root and then washing it clean. Once clean, peel and cut your chicory root into small even pieces. You need the pieces to be even so they dry evenly.
Dehydrate the small chicory root pieces in your oven at 100°C for an hour or two. Once completely dry, turn up the temperature to 150°C to brown and roast the pieces completely. Once done, the pieces should be brittle and break apart in your hands. Now simply grind the pieces according to your brewing method and brew as usual.
Alternatively, you can add a small amount of ground chicory to your normal coffee if you want to reduce your caffeine intake without sacrificing taste or quantity. One part chicory for every two or three parts of coffee is recommended but you can adjust the ratios to your preference.
One thing to remember is that chicory is more water-soluble than coffee so you need less chicory to get the same intensity of flavor. This also means chicory is prone to over-extraction, so be careful not to brew for too long.
Adding Chicory to Coffee: Pros and Cons
Now that we know how and why we add chicory to coffee, we need to ask ourselves “Should we be adding chicory to coffee?”. The answer, as usual, is it depends. Coffee with chicory root has a number of health benefits but it also comes with a few drawbacks.
Some benefits of adding chicory to coffee include:
Chicory root is rich in inulin, a soluble fiber. Soluble fiber like inulin helps in maintaining digestive health and is associated with lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels. It may also be helpful for diabetics since inulin doesn't raise blood glucose levels.
- It may reduce inflammation
Chicory root is a good source of phenolic antioxidants that reduce inflammation and free radical damage in the body.
- It relieves digestive issues
Being rich in fiber, coffee with chicory or brewed chicory can help relieve constipation, especially since coffee is already a laxative.
- It’s naturally caffeine-free
If you’re struggling with caffeine dependence, adding more chicory to your coffee can help you cut down on your caffeine intake while giving you the same taste as normal coffee. In fact, chicory gives a nuttier flavor to any coffee.
Sounds good, right? But there are a few cases where you should avoid adding chicory to coffee or drinking chicory root. Some people may be allergic to chicory and anyone with an allergy to birch pollen will also have a reaction to chicory root. Additionally, the effects of drinking chicory root during pregnancy have not been widely studied so expecting mothers should avoid substituting their coffee with chicory (and of course, avoid coffee in general during pregnancy).
Chicory root is a great coffee substitute and many cultures around the world are familiar with adding chicory root to coffee. While this nutty additive might not be for everyone, chicory root has an important place in coffee history and culture. If you’re curious and want to try chicory coffee for yourself, you can buy from some great chicory coffee brands online. Enjoy!