Wake up and Smell the Chicory Root: A Healthy Supplement and Coffee Substitute
You might not know chicory root (yet), but chances are you would recognize its periwinkle blue flowers. A relative of dandelions, chicory is a wildflower that blooms abundantly along roads and in meadows all summer. Its long, serrated leaves look and taste a lot like dandelion greens and are used raw in salads with greens like endive or radicchio, or braised to tame their bitterness. Before we explore chicory root benefits, let’s learn the basics.
Though prebiotic chicory root extract or supplements are more common, some European countries eat chicory root as a vegetable. Chicory root looks like a parsnip, and the ancient Greeks and Romans grew it as a vegetable, too!
Chicory root and leaves date back to ancient Egypt, and since then, its uses in herbalism, as well as the kitchen, have only spread.
This article will look at the benefits of chicory root fiber, any side effects of chicory root extract, and why some people sip on it instead of coffee! Let’s start with the benefits.
1. Chicory Root Contains Prebiotic Fiber
Research studies validate some of chicory’s traditional uses, mostly attributed to its unique fiber content, but note that more research is needed.
Due to chicory root’s bitter compounds and relatively high amount of the prebiotic fiber, inulin, research has associated it with a wide array of benefits. These include digestive health, explains Liz Wyosnick, MS, RDN, owner of the Seattle-based practice Equilibriyum.
Up to 40% of chicory root is inulin, a type of fiber known as resistant starch.
Chicory root has one of the highest amounts of inulin compared to other foods, says Wyosnick. Inulin is a prebiotic and acts as a great food source for beneficial gut bacteria.”
Keep Things Moving
Like insoluble fiber (the type found in dark leafy greens, nuts, and seeds, and whole grains), inulin has a “bulking effect” on your stool. Chicory root fiber and other types of prebiotic fiber may help keep you regular, helping prevent occasional constipation.
2. Chicory Root and Weight Management
All of that fiber leads to another chicory root benefit. Fiber (including inulin), along with protein, is believed help you feel full longer, making it a great part of a healthy weight management strategy.
3. Chicory Root Can Be Used as a Caffeine-Free Coffee Swap
This chicory root benefit is a tasty one that can help you cut back on caffeine.
If you’ve ever been to New Orleans, you may have washed down a beignet with chicory coffee, made from roasted chicory root. Chicory root coffee started out of necessity, as a way to stretch limited supplies of coffee beans.
“Chicory root is often used as a swap for coffee because it has a bitter taste and comparable color to that of black coffee, and it does not contain any caffeine,” says Wyosnick.
Young chicory roots are slightly bitter, with a hint of caramel flavor — similar to coffee. The chicory roots are roasted, ground, then brewed like coffee.
The only drawback: you don’t get the fiber.
Side Effects of Chicory Root
While more fiber is usually a good thing, you should take it slow, especially with the inulin found in chicory root!
Chicory root is generally safe, but those new to having it may experience:
- abdominal cramping
- increased urination
“The inulin fiber within the bitter compound of ground chicory root is disguised well, and you can easily consume enough inulin to cause digestive discomfort,” cautions Wyosnick. “Chicory root is also considered by some a mild diuretic and may cause you to urinate more, so it is important to drink plenty of plain water if consuming a drink or food item that contains chicory root.”
As with any fiber supplement, start small and work your way up — and drink plenty of water along the way.
Where to Find Chicory Root
You can find whole chicory root at specialty grocery stores, and chicory root coffee or tea is usually available at regular supermarkets (Cafe du Monde is a popular brand).
Chicory root supplements are available at health food stores, larger supermarkets, some pharmacies, and online.
Anytime you shop for a supplement, consider these questions: How is the supplement produced? Is it processed without harmful solvents or other additives? Is the company reputable? Do they offer proof of the tests they perform (including verification that what’s on the label is really what you’re buying and that they’ve tested for microbes, heavy metals, etc.)? Are they making claims that sound too good to be true? Keep in mind that supplement companies have to abide by industry standards for their claims, which are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Be sure to discuss any supplements you are considering with your doctor.
Here are some chicory root products available on Amazon: