If you've ever had a café au lait in New Orleans, you know what we're talking about.

By Betty Gold
January 10, 2020

Chicory, or more precisely chicory root, has been around for centuries. It wasn’t until recently, however, that this plant started generating endless buzz—outside of New Orleans in particular.

What is chicory root? It’s a part of a plant that comes from the dandelion family, known for its purple-blue flowers. It’s native to France, but grows all over the United States and other parts of Europe, South Africa, and Australia. Lately, much of the well-deserved hype chicory root has garnered is due to its laundry list of purported health benefits, Not to mention that its deliciously toasty, earthy flavor is reminiscent of, and therefore an apt replacement for, coffee. Unsurprisingly, chicory root has been used for centuries for both culinary and medicinal purposes.

To begin, chicory is composed of nearly 70 percent inulin by weight, which is a type of fiber. (Read: it’s really good for you.) Inulin acts as a prebiotic, meaning it feeds your gut’s beneficial bacteria. This bacteria boosts your body’s immune system and anti-inflammatory response, in addition to helping you absorb vitamins and minerals. The inulin in chicory has also been shown to bolster your sensitivity to insulin and assist in your body’s carbohydrate metabolism, meaning it helps your body convert carbs into energy efficiently.

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And for those looking to lower their caffeine intake, chicory root is a smart substitute for (or addition to) coffee. New Orleans popularized this practice during both the Civil War, when trade was disrupted and shipments from coffee-producing countries were impacted by the war. The root’s bold flavor profile and color both resemble coffee, yet it contains zero grams of caffeine. The famous Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans still serves its café au lait with chicory, and you may have noticed it sneaking into your cold brew coffee to give it that je ne sais quoi.

To make chicory coffee, the root of the chicory plant is ground and roasted (you can find ground chicory on Amazon), then steeped in water on its own or in addition to regular coffee grounds. You won’t reap as many health benefits from chicory coffee as you would from eating the root, but you’ll be significantly cutting back on caffeine and making a delicious drink to boot. Expect a smooth-but-bold and subtly smoky, nutty flavor.

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