Chicories: Radicchio, "Dandelion," Endive, and more!

@thecityman 's ever curious mind and good questions got me thinking it was time for a thread on growing chicories. I really love growing and eating chicories. I’ve only really scratched the surface of the world of chicories, but I’d like to share what I do know. They’re like lettuce, but a little more challenging. There’s a huge diversity in growth forms (heading, non-heading, balls, frilly, long) and parts harvested (leaves, heads, roots, swollen flower stalks). Varieties can be ready in as little as 55 days, or as long as 4 months plus a post-season forcing period.

Eating them is a treat, too! They all have varying degrees of bitterness, which lends itself well to standing up to (and complementing) rich flavors such as bacon, anchovy, cheese, and vinegar. Most of the Italian varieties (where the largest diversity is) are usually cooked, though many are suitable for raw use. A few are even primarily used raw.

There are two species of chicory Chicorium intybus includes radicchio, Italian dandelion, pan di zucchero, puntarelle, and others. This is also the species where the roots are used roasted as a coffee additive in parts of the South, and has naturalized in much of the country. These chicories tend to be more bitter and most varieties that I’m aware of are often (if not always) cooked. They are biennial and will flower in the second year. Chicorium endivum includes endive, escarole, and frisee. These are much more common in the grocery store, and they are milder. There’s still a bit of bitterness, but it’s more subtle than the intybus varieties. These chicories behave more like lettuce and will flower in the same year they are planted if allowed. Of the two species, endivum is generally easier to grow, but pan di zucchero and Italian dandelion from the intybus group are pretty darn easy.

Growing chicory is much like growing lettuce. They are cool season crops, but they are much more sensitive to warm temperatures (especially heading varieties) and most are best grown for the fall rather than the spring. There are some that I’ve read are best for spring, but I haven’t tried them yet. Many varieties of radicchio will not head up properly if temperatures are too warm. I like to start them ahead in plant trays and transplant them out to the garden. Most varieties are fine with some frost, so I try to time it so they’ll be reaching their harvest right around then. Some varieties (like puntarelle) don’t like frost, so you want to err a little earlier, and some radicchios really need to be hit by a few hard frosts. I plant them out in the summer, and keep them well watered and moderately fertilized.

Another thing to note is that it can be hard to source accurately labeled seed for some of these, the Italian varieties in particular. There are categories within categories of these, so a buyer for a seed company might not order quite the right thing. The most reliable source I’ve found in the US is growitalian.com. They directly import the seed packs from an Italian seed company, so you know you’re getting the right stuff.

I’ll also detail a few varieties of chicory I have experience with.
C endivum

Frisee endive This frilly, frizzy, kinda wiry chicory is one you’ve probably encountered. It’s usually included in mesclun mixes for texture and volume. It’s pretty easy to grow, ready in 55-65 days and forms a loose head. For best results, the heads should be blanched by placing a pot over them or tying up the outer leaves about 10 days before harvest. The flavor of these are mildly bitter with some sweetness, and they have a nice wiry texture. The classic preparation is salade Lyonnaise, which is just this endive tossed in a warm bacon and shallot vinaigrette with a poached egg on top.

C intybus
Italian dandelion (usually just called “chicory” in Italy) one of the most commonly encountered intybus chicories and one of the easiest to grow. They look a lot like oversized dandelion greens. Since you don’t have to worry about getting it to head up, it’s pretty straightforward. These aren’t well suited to raw salads (IMO) and are best sauteed or braised, then served as a side dish or tossed with pasta or mixed into risotto.

Radicchio I’ve grown a few varieties of this. There is a huge diversity of radicchio out there. Most of what we see in the US are the red and white, ball-shaped Chioggia and Verona types. There are varieties that are long, rose shaped, squid-like, or round, and they come in reds, greens, pinks, etc. While you usually see radicchio in salad mixes for color and flavor, I like them best roasted, grilled, or sauteed. I’ve grown Chioggia types, early Treviso types, and late (tardiva) Treviso types. The first two are relatively straightforward so long as you get your timing right. They will head up by themselves so long as the weather is in the right temperature range. However, it’s not 100%, especially in eastern North America. If you spring for the newer f-1 hybrids, they have a much higher rate of nice tight heads. The Treviso tardiva varieties are a little more interesting. You have to let them grow and bulk up, then get hit by some hard frosts. At this point, you dig them up and put them in a pot (or traditionally in a crate with spring water running over their roots) in a dark space at 55-65 degrees. In a few weeks, the new heads will grow out from the roots. A lot of other radicchios can be forced in this manner, especially if you’re having trouble getting them to head up.This radicchio is especially beautiful and delicious (see picture below). I like it roasted or on pizza.

Pan di zucchero This is a very easy heading type, with a self-blanching green head. The flavor is relatively sweet, but in my opinion is best sauteed. I’ve also seen this referred to as a type of radicchio.

Puntarelle this is a whole class of chicories that is grown for its swollen flower stalks. It’s my current white whale that I haven’t quite figured out. It needs to be harvested just before frost, so timing is critical. I almost had it this year, but some persistent slugs delayed me by about 3 weeks. Anyway, this chicory is used by slicing the swollen stalks finely and soaking them in salted water. They then curl up and are tossed in a salad with anchovy. The good news is that if it doesn’t work out, the leaves are tender enough to be used like Italian dandelion.

So, that’s what I have to offer on the subject of chicories. Who else is growing them? Like I said, I’m no expert, so I welcome any comments or corrections. I’d especially love to hear from some of our members in Europe @Luisport @Oepfeli @mrsg47 to see what I got wrong, some other ways to prepare them, and any corners of the chicory-verse that I may have missed.

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What a brilliant write up!!! Thank you for this, my fence company was telling me to research Endive in my area just the other day and bam here’s this awesome write up!

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Thanks! I’m glad it was timely. You should definitely grow some chicories. If you’ve got the right market for it, they’re just the sort of specialty crop that restaurants will pay a premium for.

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Sorry i don’t grow them…

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What a great write-up! I am intrigued… will look into planting some new varieties of chicory.

I don’t want to derail the main topic of your thread here, but wanted to ask if you (or others) grow Chicorium intybus for the root to make ‘coffee’.
I have done this, but was not pleased with the results. A friend brought chicory coffee back with her after visiting New Orleans. What I grew tasted nothing like the that.

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I’d say that’s very much on topic! That being said, I haven’t tried growing it for the roots. I’ve mostly heard of just foraging the wild ones, but theoretically any should work. In fact, I was thinking earlier today that I should go up to my community garden plot and see if I can find where I had them growing and dig up the roots. Either way, I do know the seed company I link to above sells a “wild” strain of chicory (selvetica). The description focuses on the leaves, but I wonder if the roots would be good for “coffee”?

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Plain ‘chicory’ is good too. Roots a coffee substitute. Leaves resemble dandelion greens. Blue blooms. Scratchy white pollen.

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Good for coffee? That’s debatable.
But for the lover of “Luzianne” coffee…wild chicory roots be just fine.

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I bought some forage chicory once at a farm store.
Sold as a addition to game food plots , ( no variety name )
It sprouted and grew for the summer , never to come back up in the spring . Disappointed.
I have some type in my high tunnel, from a salad blend mix.
Makes mildly bitter greens I eat sparingly. It reseeds in there .
Same seed will not survive winter outside. Have not tried blanching it, I just eat a few of the youngest leafs.
I wonder what these forcing types would do if left in the ground over winter ? Maybe cover with something dark in the spring,
( flower pot, ? Black plastic ?) Has anyone done this ?
I have covered wild dandelion with metal coffee cans / flower pots to reduce bitterness in the early spring.
The wild naturalized chicory around here grows right at the edge of the road, I think because of the lime stone Road base,Not a place I would want to collect food

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I’ve been eyeing some of the grumolo types, which Seeds from Italy claims are meant to be planted in spring or overwintered for spring harvest. Italian dandelion types are also supposed to be pretty hardy.

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So I went up to the community garden and figured out where I had them planted. They had disked the gardens, but I was able to locate 8 or so plants to dig up. The roots were gnarled, twisted, and highly branched, probably a side effect of starting them in pots.

I washed and chopped the roots, then dried them at 200 for an hour, followed by roasting about 40 minutes at 350. Between 25 and 35 minutes, it smelled like great medium roast coffee. I should have pulled it then, but I was worried they weren’t dry enough yet. Despite being a darker roast than I was shooting for, I was able to grind them up and steep them in my French press to provide a remarkably coffee like beverage. It needed a little milk to take the bite off, but was pretty good otherwise. With a little tweaking to the roasting and brewing, I’d say it would work great. If I were to do it again, I think the chicory selected for roots would be much easier, or at least direct seed the heading types for nicer roots.

Edit: after further experimenting, I’ve found that a mixture of about 2 parts coffee and 1 part chicory seems to be the sweet spot. It’s much more balanced and the chicory adds a little je ne sais quoi to the brew.

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boy you do NOT waste time when you get an idea Jay! Way to go!
When I brewed coffee from the roots, I used a similar roasting method as you did. It smelled really great while roasting! I brewed it straight, didn’t care for it. Tried it brewed in different proportions with my regular coffee. It was OK, but still not at all what I remembered the chicory coffee from Louisiana tasting like.
That had a very sharp taste, maybe a tad bitter, with a little smoky undertone to it. Maybe @murky has some experience with chicory coffee from Louisianna?
I grow the wild variety, but have read that Chicorium intybus sativum is the cultivar to grow specifically for the root, for making coffee. I haven’t looked to see if I can find seed available anywhere. It’s difficult to grow root vegetables of any kind in the Kansas clay (you probably remember), so I didn’t pursue it further. I might do some checking and see what seed is available.

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I have about 4 pounds of chicory seed. Spread it on disturbed ground from time to time. If you can’t find any, I could send you an ounce or something if you decide to try again.

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I have plenty of the wild seed, @BlueBerry . Do you have the sativum cultivar?

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Haha! I like “not wasting time” better than “ADHD/impulsive!” It’s something I’d been meaning to try anyway, but you gave me an excuse to get off my butt and do it. I agree that straight up was a bit much. It tasted almost exactly like percolator coffee to me, but the bitterness was more the chicory bitterness than coffee bitterness, if that makes sense. I haven’t had the “real deal” Louisiana coffee, so I can’t really say how my blend compares, but I liked it. As for seed, Seeds from Italy claims this root vegetable variety is the same kind used by Cafe du Monde. Can’t help you with the clay, unfortunately!

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Don’t have the package in front of me…but it may be the native/wild…for I bought it as a ‘deer food plot’ seed…but that’s not necessarily my use for it.
Bee food and people food is my main reason.
I’ll get back to you.

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Thanks for the link!
I can’t county how many times I haven’t gotten things done before winter arrives, because I just keep putting it off. It’s good not to be a time waster! :grin:

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No problem! And, Wikipedia claims that the sativum types refers to root chicory, so that’s promising if not definitive.

Now, if I can just stop wasting time on chicory and get all the leaves raked and shredded…

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So, in honor of my friend @jcguarneri I thought I’d try this Radicchio I saw at a local market - my first taste ever. Jay, I hate to say it because I was really getting fired up about this Radicchio thing…but I’m not a fan! haha. It’s quite bitter to me- just not something I’d want in my salad I don’t think!!! I hate to even say it because I feel your passion.

Of course, who knows what variety this is and you’ve already educated me on the large number of varieties and how they vary, so I will try not let one head ruin my outlook! I also confess I’m not a leafy-greens guy anyway so I’m not a fair tester.

Can you tell anything about what kind this may be?

image

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