Enjoying Belgian Endive

Belgian endive (Cichorium intybus) is a variety of common chicory, along with which includes radicchio, and puntarelle. They all belong to the chicory genus, which includes several similar bitter-leafed vegetables, along with curly endive and escarole (Cichorium endivia), and wild chicory (Cichorium pumilum). The chicory genus belongs to the Asteraceae family, along with the herbs arnica, burdock, boneset, calendula, chamomile, cronewort (mugwort), coltsfoot, dandelion, echinacea, elecampane, feverfew, gravel root, grindelia, liferoot, milk thistle, tansy, yarrow, valerian, wormwood, and wild lettuce. The family also contains the foods sunflower seedslettuce, true artichokes, and sun chokes (also known as Jerusalem artichokes). And it contains the decorative flowers asters, chrysanthemums, dahlias, bachelor’s buttons, daisies, cosmos, coneflowers, goldenrods, sunflowers, and zinnias.

The young leaves of the wild common chicory used to be enjoyed as a salad green in Europe in early spring, but the leaves soon turn bitter as they get older.

In the spring of 1831, Jan Lammers returned from the Belgian War of Independence to his farm near Brussels where he had stored chicory roots in his cellar while he was away. He had intended to dry and then roast them for use as a coffee substitute. However, his chicory roots, having spent several months in his dark, damp cellar, had sprouted small, white, leafy shoots from the top of the root. Lammers tried the leaves and found them to be tender, moist, and crunchy with a pleasantly mild, bitter taste. The newly discovered vegetable was called Belgian endive  (pronounced EN-dyv; AHN-deev; ahn-DEEV).

In 1978 an American named Rich Collins was working as a dishwasher in the kitchen of Restaurant La Salle in Sacramento. The owner, preparing braised endives for a special VIP birthday dinner, told his young employee that he should consider growing Belgian endives, as he had just paid four dollars a pound for them. Collins bought some seeds and planted them in the family vegetable garden. Stanley Corriea, a longtime family friend, owner of Stanley Produce in San Francisco and an importer of endives from Europe, not only volunteered to buy Belgian endive, but also to finance the operation. In 1983, Collins launched Rebel Farms and began commercial production of Belgian endive in Vacaville, California.

Belgian endive is wonderful for digestive health. It is considered to be a prebiotic, which means it helps stimulate the growth and productivity of probiotic microbes in your body. Belgian endive also contains bitters which help to stimulate your digestive system and detoxify your liver. It is an excellent source of fiber, which helps to remove wastes from your body.

Belgian endive is also an excellent source of folate, which allows for the complete development of red blood cells, and prevents build-up of a substance called homocysteine, which is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. It’s a very good source of potassium, which helps maintain the health of your heart and nervous system. Belgian endive is also high in manganese, which is important in the formation of many enzymes, including superoxide dismutase, an enzyme with antioxidant activity that protects your tissues from the damaging effects of free radicals. It’s also a good source of vitamin C, which also protects your body by functioning as an antioxidant and preventing oxygen-based damage to your cells. The good amount of thiamine in Belgian endive helps you stay alert and energized during the day.

The antioxidant and antiviral properties in Belgian endive help to keep your immune system strong. It can help regulate blood sugar levels and improve cholesterol levels.

Nutrients in 100 Grams of Belgian Endive

Nutrient

Amount

DV

fiber 3.1 g

12.4%

folate 37 µg

9.3%

potassium 211 mg

6%

manganese 0.1 mg

5%

vitamin C 2.8 mg

4.7%

thiamine 0.062 mg

4.1%

phosphorus 26 mg

2.6%

copper 0.051 mg

2.6%

magnesium 10 mg

2.5%

vitamin B6 0.042 mg

2.1%

calcium 19 mg

2%

protein 0.9 g

1.8%

riboflavin 0.027 mg

1.6%

pantothenic acid 0.145 mg

1.5%

carbohydrates 4 g

1.3%

iron 0.24 mg

1.3%

zinc 0.16 mg

1%

Calories 17

0.9%

niacin 0.16 mg

0.8%

vitamin A 29 IU

0.6%

selenium 0.2 µg

0.3%

fat 0.1 g

0.2%

sodium 2 mg

0.1%

cholesterol 0 mg

0%

Lutein-zeaxanthin 8832 µg
Carotene-ß 16 µg

Select Belgian endives that are crisp and smooth and with creamy white leaves 4-6 inches long with yellow-green, closed tips.

Keep Belgian endives dry. Wipe with a paper towel or cloth if necessary. Refrigerate wrapped in paper towel inside a bag for about a day or up to 1 week.

To prepare Belgian endives, rinse with cold water. Slice off about 1/8th inch from the stem end. Then, with a paring knife, cut a cone shape about 1/2-inch deep from the stem end. Tear into bite-sized pieces if adding to a salad or keep whole for cooking.

You can include Belgian endive in soups, salads, and even braise them as a delicious appetizer.

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