chicory root

9 min read

What is Chicory Root: Benefits, Uses

Ever heard of chicory root? A powerhouse ingredient packed with fiber, Chicory Root is becoming an increasingly popular ingredient. Because most Americans lack fiber in their diets, food companies are starting to add this ingredient to their products. So, before it becomes the “Beyonce” of ingredients, let's talk about what you need to know about Chicory Root.

What is Chicory Root?

A part of the dandelion family, chicory root is extensively cultivated in Europe and has made its way to North America over the past couple of centuries. The plant’s name comes from Greek and Latin:

Cichorium defined means field and intybus is partially derived from the Greek “to cut”, due to the plant’s leaves, and partially from the Latin tubus to allude to the plant’s hollow stem[1].

While typically a blue flower, it occasionally blooms white or pink. Chicory’s leaves and flowers are often used in salads while the roots are used as a coffee substitute, livestock feedstuff, or pet food[2]. Additionally, chicory extracts are sometimes used in beverages, both alcoholic and nonalcoholic, to improve taste, and occasionally, chicory’s roots are even turned into alcohol[2]. Like we said, chicory root is quite the plant!

Although it is currently having a “glow-up”, chicory root has been used for centuries for medicinal, food, and even ceremonial purposes[3]. Here are a few historical applications of chicory root, you know, just in case you’re ever on “Jeopardy”:

  • Ancient Egyptians: used chicory primarily as a medicinal plant, coffee substitute, and vegetable crop and occasionally for animal forage[1].
  • Europeans: used chicory roots for relief of symptoms associated with mild digestive disorders and loss of appetite[1].
  • Afghanistan: Prior to wars, folkloric reports illustrate the application of aqueous root extracts as a light-sensitive plant remedy for malaria[1].
  • Italy: the whorls are created into a decoction and applied as a depurative, aka a detoxifier.[1]

In addition to being consumed as a whole food or a powder, chicory is available as a simple serum, an alternative sweetener, and occasionally even essential oil. It is also regularly ground and utilized as a coffee substitute because of its woody and nutty flavor -- especially if somebody is looking for a caffeine-free option. Fun history fact: chicory as a coffee replacement started around the Civil War when shipments of coffee were sparse because the Union cut off access to New Orleans port[4]. Chicory root quickly saved the day;

Background

One of the most well-researched sources of fiber and inulin, chicory contributes to a healthy and balanced digestive system. In the 1970s, researchers discovered its root contained 40% inulin, a type of fiber that has little to no impact on blood sugar and enters the small intestine undigested[1]. Today, there are over 150 human studies that provide strong evidence for seven physiological benefits of chicory root[5].

Other Names for Chicory Root

The main name for chicory root is in fact chicory root. However, some may refer to the plant as blue daisy, coffeeweed, cornflower, or horseweed.

How Chicory Root Works

As noted, chicory root is used for various purposes and so describing how chicory root works proves to be a little difficult. However, we can say that at OLIPOP, we use chicory root in our soda because it is non-digestible in the small intestine, which results in healthful modifications in the colonic microbiota composition and several metabolites' productions.

The shining star of chicory root is the inulin, or the prebiotic fiber that humans do not digest. Yet, while humans can not break this fiber down in their digestive tract, the live and beneficial bacteria we have living in our guts (aka probiotics) use this fiber as fuel.

And just like us humans, if the probiotics are not provided with a “food source”, they will not thrive. So, including chicory root in your diet helps support a healthy gut microbiota by helping keep certain beneficial bacteria in your gut healthy and thriving. And a healthy and diverse microbiota means many benefits for you -- including a supported immune system and a supported digestive system.[6]

The Health Benefits of Chicory Root

Chicory root contains:

  • Flavonoids.
  • Essential minerals like calcium and magnesium.
  • Inulin, a prebiotic fiber.

These elements contribute to the health benefits of chicory root, so let's break them down.


Flavonoids:

Moms and dads always tell their kids to eat their vegetables, but have you ever wondered why? One of the many reasons is flavonoids, the molecules in fruits and vegetables, are healthy for you by defending against potentially harmful toxins. While they have various functions, one of them is to produce fruit's color to attract pollinating insects. Therefore, the universal rule is the more colorful a food item is, the more flavonoids the fruit has. (Oranges are an exception to this rule because flavonoids are primarily found in the white and pulp interior of the skin)[7]. Today, scientists point to various flavonoids to understand some of the health benefits associated with diets rich in fruits and vegetables.


Flavonoids are a vital ingredient in various nutraceutical, pharmaceutical, medicinal and cosmetic applications[7]. Their use is associated with their anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, anti-mutagenic, and anti-carcinogenic characteristics and their ability to modulate critical cellular enzyme function. AKA, they help your body function while defending it against daily toxins and stressors. The takeaway: flavonoids may help your body function while defending it against daily toxins and stressors.

The takeaway: flavonoids may help your body function while defending it against daily toxins and stressors. They support many health functions, but their direct correlation requires more research.


Essential Minerals:
Chicory root contains comparatively high levels of essential minerals such as potassium (K), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), selenium (S), and zinc (Zn). These nutrients play very important roles in your body, including immune support and bone health support.


Inulin:
Inulin is a fiber found in plants. In fiber supplements, chicory root is typically the main form. As a fiber, your small intestine does not absorb inulin, and when inulin moves to your large intestine, bacteria ferment it.

Inulin may:

  • Decrease constipation: studies suggest that those who consume inulin daily have less trouble with constipation[8].
  • Increase helpful bacteria in the colon: Iinulin is a prebiotic, and prebiotics have many potential health benefits, including increasing the amount of calcium and other minerals you absorb from food, supporting a healthy immune system, and relieving intestinal problems[8].

Possible Side Effects of Chicory Root

Chicory root is incredibly safe especially when consumed in amounts typically found in food. However, there is not enough evidence or research into the benefit of chicory when taken orally in medicinal amounts. Of course, chicory might cause some minor GI side effects, like bloating, belching and gas.

What to Look for

Today, you can find chicory root as an ingredient in many baked goods, prebiotic powders and bars. You can also purchase chicory in a loose powder so you can integrate it into your meals as you please.

Chicory Root in OLIPOP

Our natural ingredients work together to promote healthy digestion. They support the growth of healthy microbes in the digestive tract, as well as feed the good bacteria that already exist there. That’s why OLIPOP includes chicory root: we love its potential benefits both as fiber and prebiotic to support digestive health!


Sources

  1. Renée A. Street, Jasmeen Sidana, and Gerhard Prinsloo, “Cichorium Intybus: Traditional Uses, Phytochemistry, Pharmacology, and Toxicology,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2013 (2013): 1–13, https://doi.org/10.1155/2013/579319.
  2. Ifeoma Chinyelu Nwafor, Karabo Shale, and Matthew Chilaka Achilonu, “Chemical Composition and Nutritive Benefits of Chicory(Cichorium Intybus)as an Ideal Complementary and/or Alternative Livestock Feed Supplement,” The Scientific World Journal 2017 (2017): 1–11, https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/7343928.
  3. Marie-Luise Puhlmann and Willem M de Vos, “Back to the Roots: Revisiting the Use of the Fiber-Rich Cichorium IntybusL. Taproots,” Advances in Nutrition 11, no. 4 (March 21, 2020): 878–89, https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmaa025.
  4. “The History of Coffee & Chicory,” accessed May 12, 2021, https://www.communitycoffee.com/blog/detail/the-history-of-coffee-chicory.
  5. Céline L. Pouille et al., “Chicory Root Flour – A Functional Food with Potential Multiple Health Benefits Evaluated in a Mice Model,” Journal of Functional Foods 74 (November 2020): 104174, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jff.2020.104174.
  6. Giorgio La Fata, Peter Weber, and M Hasan Mohajeri, “Probiotics and the Gut Immune System: Indirect Regulation,” Probiotics and Antimicrobial Proteins 10, no. 1 (March 2018): 11–21, https://doi.org/10.1007/s12602-017-9322-6.
  7. Shashank Kumar and Abhay K. Pandey, “Chemistry and Biological Activities of Flavonoids: An Overview,” The Scientific World Journal 2013 (2013): 1–16, https://doi.org/10.1155/2013/162750.
  8. Anthony W. Watson et al., “Changes in Stool Frequency Following Chicory Inulin Consumption, and Effects on Stool Consistency, Quality of Life and Composition of Gut Microbiota,” Food Hydrocolloids 96 (November 2019): 688–98, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodhyd.2019.06.006.
Cheat Sheet
  • Chicory is one of the most well-researched sources of fiber and inulin, a type of fiber that has little to no impact on blood sugar.
  • Chicory Root’s flavonoids may help your body function while defending it against daily toxins and stressors.
  • OLIPOP includes chicory root because of its health benefits both as fiber and prebiotic to support digestive health.
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