Chicory (lat. Cichorium intybus) is a somewhat woody, perennial herbaceous plant with lavender, blue or occasionally white flowers with long white root. It’s popular named as succory, blue sailors, coffeeweed and as cornflower. Chicory is cultivated for salad leaves, chicons (blanched buds), or for roots, which are the most important. Over the years, these roots have gained immense popularity as a health supplement and food additive due to its many medicinal benefits.
First chicory, as a vegetable crop, was grown by Greeks and Romans 4000 years ago. Since the discovery in the 1970s that chicory root contains up to 40% of inulin, a versatile polysaccharide similar to starch, began the farming of root chicory.
Inulin, which is also known as chicory root extract, is found in many plants and is utilised as an energy reserve – vegetables such as artichokes, asparagus, salsify, leeks, onions, garlic and chicory all contain inulin. It has been harnessed by the food industry as a functional food ingredient serving a multitude of purposes. For example, inulin is sometimes used as a sweetener in place of sucrose as it has a minimal impact upon blood sugar, making it suitable for diabetics. It also functions as a fat and flour substitute, and can act as soluble fibre. Chicory is one of the earliest known and most widely used raw materials for the manufacture of coffee substitutes. It looks and tastes something like coffee but is caffeine-free and less expensive than the real thing.
Chicory root has a lot of health benefits on human body, because of its ingredients. Fresh chicory root typically contains, by dry weight, 68% inulin, 14% sucrose, 5% cellulose, 6% protein, 4% ash, and 3% other compounds. By total weight it may contain between 13 and 23% inulin. Dried chicory root extract contains, by weight, approximately 98% inulin and 2% other compounds.
Chicory is typically farmed in a biennial cycle, with a tuberised root produced during the vegetative growth phase. Harvesting start in October and takes for two months, if weather conditions are favorable. The root is extracted in the technological maturity, when the outer leaves start yellowing and the inner leaves are still green. Before harvest, leaves should be mowed. Chicory can be extraced with plows, with modified digger for sugar beet harvest or with chicory harvester which is the most modern way of extraction.
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