Chicory is a somewhat bitter leafy green that belongs to the daisy family. There are several varieties of chicory grown for their edible leaves and roots, which are common ingredients in Mediterranean and European cuisines. The name “chicory” comes from the Latin name “cichorium” which referred to several wild plants in the same family. The various types of chicory likely originated in Europe, where they grow as wild weeds. Cultivation of chicory as a crop began during ancient Roman and Greek times.
Over the centuries, chicory was spread across Europe and the Mediterranean. Selective breeding led to the development of multiple varieties that are grown for their unique leaf shapes, textures, and flavors. The most common types used in cooking include curly endive, radicchio, Belgian endive, escarole, and puntarelle. While the different varieties of chicory can vary quite a bit in appearance, they all share a slightly bitter, earthy taste. The leaves add texture and robust flavor to salads, stews, and other dishes. Chicory roots can also be cultivated and roasted as a caffeine-free coffee substitute. Today, chicories remain popular ingredients in Italian, French, and other European cuisines. They are valued for their culinary versatility, nutrition, and distinctive bitter notes. The many varieties allow cooks to add interesting shapes and flavors to recipes.
Treviso Tardivo is a loose-leaf type of chicory known for its beautiful red-speckled leaves. The leaves have a mildly bitter and sweet taste with a tender, supple texture. Treviso Tardivo thrives in temperate climates and requires cool weather to grow best. It prefers sandy, nutrient-rich soil with a pH between 6-7.5. Seeds are typically planted in mid-summer for a fall harvest that lasts into winter.
The red-veined leaves of Treviso Tardivo make it a visually striking addition to salads and side dishes. It can be used raw in salads, sautéed, braised, or grilled. When cooked, Treviso Tardivo softens and mellows in bitterness while still retaining some texture. Its bittersweet flavor pairs well with bold ingredients like nuts, cheese, citrus, and sweet dressings or sauces. This chicory is popular in Italian cuisine, often paired with prosciutto, olives, and roasted vegetables.
Verona is a type of chicory known for its bittersweet flavor and elongated spear-shaped leaves. Often described as having a “radicchio-like” appearance, Verona leaves have variegated wine-red and creamy-white coloring. The leaves have a crunchy and juicy texture that complements their pleasantly bitter taste.
Verona performs best in cool weather and is often grown as a fall or early winter crop. It thrives in rich, well-drained soil and requires consistent moisture. Verona grows in a tight, compact head that allows the interior leaves to blanch, increasing the contrast of colors. Culinary uses for Verona are similar to other chicories. It can be eaten raw in salads, lending color and bitterness. Braising or grilling mellows the bitterness while adding richness. Verona pairs nicely with bold flavors like nuts, cheese, citrus, sweet fruits, and vinaigrettes. It can also be wilted into soups and risottos. The gorgeous hues of Verona make it an excellent, edible garnish.
Curly endive, also known as frisée, is a green leafy vegetable with delicate, tender leaves. It has a distinct appearance with frilly, frizzy leaves that are curled and divided from the central rib. The leaves are pale green to yellowish green in color. Curly endive has a slightly bitter and mildly pungent taste. The tender leaves have a delicate, crunchy texture. When eaten raw, the leaves have a mildly bitter, earthy taste. When cooked, curly endive develops a sweeter, nuttier flavor.
Curly endive grows best in cool weather and thrives in full sun. It prefers fertile, well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter. Curly endive is frost tolerant. Curly endive is very versatile and used in many culinary applications. It works well in salads, providing a bitter contrast and visual appeal. The leaves can also be braised or sautéed as a side dish. Curly endive pairs nicely with rich, creamy or sweet ingredients that balance its bitterness. It is commonly used in dishes like frisée aux lardons, a French salad with bacon and poached egg. Curly endive also makes a tasty addition to sandwiches, wraps, soups and omelets. Its distinctive frizzy texture makes it an attractive garnish.
Treviso Precoce is a light green variety of chicory known for its tender leaves and bittersweet taste. It has a loose, frilly head and serrated leaf edges. The leaves are juicy and crunchy with a mildly bitter and nutty flavor. Treviso Precoce grows best in cool temperatures and consistently moist soil. It prefers partial shade. Sow seeds in early spring for a summer harvest or in late summer for fall and winter harvesting.
Treviso Precoce is often used in salads, pairs well with blue cheese, and can be grilled or braised. Its tender leaves hold up well when cooked. Treviso Precoce also makes a flavorful side dish when sauteed with olive oil and garlic. It can be used as a pizza topping, chopped and added to pasta or risotto, or wrapped around fillings. The bittersweet flavor balances rich meats like pork or lamb.
Puntarelle is a chicory variety commonly found in Italian cuisine. Its leaves form a compact head that resembles that of romaine lettuce. The leaves are elongated with curly, serrated edges, and have a distinctive pale green color. When raw, puntarelle has a mild, slightly bitter taste, although the bitterness increases as the vegetable matures. The texture is crisp and crunchy like lettuce.
Puntarelle thrives in mild Mediterranean climates and requires well-drained, fertile soil. It can be grown as a cool weather crop in spring and fall. The vegetable is at its best when harvested young before the leaves fully extend. The most popular culinary use for puntarelle is in the classic Italian salad insalata di puntarelle. To prepare the salad, the leaves are cut into strips and soaked in cold water to remove some of the bitterness. Anchovies, garlic, olive oil, and lemon dressing are then tossed with the puntarelle strips to create a refreshing chilled salad. Puntarelle is also excellent simply dressed with olive oil, or grated raw in a salad. Its crunchy texture makes a pleasant addition to other leafy greens and vegetables. When braised or sauteed briefly, it takes on a more mellow, nutty flavor.
Belgian endive is a type of chicory grown for its small, cigar-shaped, tightly packed heads of tender, pale leaves with frilly edges. It has a mild bitter taste and a crisp, crunchy texture. Belgian endive is grown in complete darkness to prevent its leaves from turning green and opening. The growing process, called forcing, takes place in late summer and fall, when the chicory roots are dug up and replanted in pots inside a dark place. The lack of sunlight causes the leaves to grow tightly packed together into a cone shape.
Ideal growing conditions for Belgian endive include rich, sandy, well-drained soil and a cool climate. It thrives in areas with cool summers and cold winters.
Belgian endive is highly versatile in the kitchen. Its bittersweet flavor pairs well with rich dishes and it can be eaten raw or cooked. The delicate, bittersweet taste of Belgian endive balances and cuts through rich flavors. Both the leaves and roots are edible and versatile for many recipes.
Lusia is one of the open-leaf chicories popular for its tender, bitter leaves and stems. It has bright green curly leaves that form a loose head or rosette shape. The leaves are delicately bitter with a slightly nutty and earthy flavor. They have a crunchy texture when raw but become tender when cooked. Lusia thrives in cool weather and can tolerate some frost. It grows best in nutrient-rich, well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade. Lusia is a fast-growing variety, ready for harvest within 60-75 days after sowing.
The young leaves and stems of Lusia chicory can be eaten raw in salads or lightly cooked by sautéing or steaming. The bitterness diminishes with cooking, bringing out its sweet, nutty notes. Lusia adds depth of flavor when added to soups, stews, braises, and grilled dishes. It can also be grilled, roasted or baked on its own, drizzled with olive oil, garlic, lemon and herbs. Lusia pairs well with bold flavors like garlic, Parmesan cheese, nuts, bacon, olive oil, citrus, herbs, mustard and vinegar. It makes a interesting substitute for spinach or kale.
Rosa is a rare heirloom variety of chicory known for its beautiful pink-tinged leaves. This type forms loose heads of tender, creamy-white leaves streaked with rosy pink. The leaves have a slightly bitter taste and a crisp, crunchy texture. Rosa chicory thrives in cool weather and performs best when sown in early spring or late summer for a fall harvest. It needs consistently moist soil and partial shade. The pink color intensifes when plants are exposed to some sunlight.
This striking chicory is highly prized for its visual appeal. The pink-veined leaves make Rosa chicory an attractive addition to salads and other raw preparations. It can also be lightly cooked by sautéing or grilling to mellow the bitterness. The pink speckles soften but don’t disappear completely. Rosa adds loveliness as well as a delicate bitter note to composed salad plates.
Chicories comprise a diverse group of bitter leafy vegetables in the daisy family. While the varieties share some similarities, each has its own distinct traits that make it unique. The Treviso group, including Treviso Tardivo, Treviso Precoce, Verona, and Chioggia, have elongated spear-shaped leaves with a mildly bitter taste. They are closely related to radicchio and are popular in Italian cuisine. Endives like Curly Endive and Belgian Endive form tight heads of slender, pale leaves. They have a pronounced bitterness and are often baked, braised, or used in salads.
Other varieties like Puntarelle, Lusia, and Castelfranco have their own unique leaf shapes, textures, and flavors. Puntarelle is known for its tender white ribs, while Castelfranco is a stunning magenta-streaked Italian heirloom. Though different, all chicories share a pleasant bitterness that adds welcome complexity to recipes. Their versatility allows them to be eaten raw, cooked, or grilled. Chicories have also been valued for centuries for their medicinal properties. Modern research indicates they are high in antioxidants and inulin fiber, which can benefit digestion and heart health. With new heirloom varieties still being cultivated, the world of chicories continues to expand. Their diversity gives cooks many options to add unique flavors and visual appeal to salads, side dishes, and main courses throughout the year.