Why is chicory bitter? Virtues and secrets of wild herbs
The field chicory it is one of the most common and appreciated wild herbs, the undisputed protagonist in popular traditional recipes and peasant. Its use for food actually dates back to very ancient times and the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans already consumed it in abundance.
Not everyone loves it, however, because chicory is a bitter herb. Its flavor gives dishes a typically rustic and decisive boost that also makes the taste more complex. Furthermore, depending on the variety of chicory, the bitter taste can be more or less marked and for this reason it is often preferred to “remove the bitterness” by cooking it.
Why is chicory bitter?
Wild chicory belongs to the Asteraceae family, the same as many other salad grown herbs such as lettuces, radishes and endives, as well as thistles, artichokes and burdock, among others.
A specific characteristic of these salad plants is the presence of sesquiterpene lactones. It is a particular class of secondary metabolites mainly responsible for the bitter taste of these plants, but also of their own many medicinal properties.
Bitters that are good for you: what cures chicory
Many of the species we grow today as salads are the result of centuries of selections and crossings. These have produced plant varieties with controlled bitter notes, such as radicchio and endive, or absent altogether as in lettuce (a far different thing from wild lettuce). The field chicory, on the other hand, as well as the dandelion and generally i wild vegetableshas escaped selection maintaining an authentic genetic heritage and with it all its bitter taste.
The aforementioned lactones, especially taraxicin and lactucin, have kept their full potential anti-inflammatory and analgesic effect, the first entry in the long list of properties and benefits of chicory. It is no coincidence that the “queen of the fields” has also been used by traditional medicine for thousands of years for its well-known phytotherapeutic virtues.
Field chicory, properties and benefits
Like most wild vegetation, field chicory is an edible food high nutritional density. It is in fact rich in vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and fibers and for this reason considered one detox vegetables. This frees the body of toxins, stimulates the liver and cleanses the intestines. The root of the plant, in particular, contains inulin, a substance with purifying, digestive and soothing effects. It is a soluble fiber of the fructose family, also used by the food industry in products without fats and sugars. Inulin, therefore, is responsible for the hypoglycaemic effect of chicory which makes the food suitable for consumption even in the case of diabetes.
Thanks to known hepatoprotective effect of chicory (stimulates bile flow), along with that too diuretic and diaphoretic (elimination of toxins through urine and sweat) and at that mildly laxativeit is immediately clear why this vegetable was used so much by grandmothers for spring detoxifying treatments.
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