What Is Chicory Coffee?

Chicory in a mug next to spoon and flowers

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Chicory is a caffeine-free herb that is a popular coffee substitute. It is most well known in New Orleans coffee (or "chicory coffee") recipes, and it can be brewed and enjoyed on its own for its dark, rich flavor. If you want to enjoy a coffeelike experience without turning to decaf, chicory is one of your best options. The flavor is very similar to regular coffee, and because chicory naturally contains no caffeine, it appeals to a healthier, all-natural lifestyle.

Fast Facts

  • Origin: Native to northern Africa, western Asia, and Europe; brought to North America in the 1700s
  • Alternative Names: Chickory, chikory, or chicorie; also known as New Orleans coffee
  • Temperature: Steep the chicory with boiling water for 10 minutes
  • Caffeine: Chicory root is naturally caffeine free; if mixed with coffee, it will contain caffeine

What Is Chicory?

Chicory coffee is a beverage made from roasting, grinding, and brewing the chicory root. Chicory comes from the chicory plant (Cichorium intybus), a hardy perennial with purplish blue flowers that open and close at the same time each day. It is common in North America and Europe. Chicory is also known as chicory root, curly endive, and succory. Although chicory leaves and flowers are used in food, the chicory root is what is used to make "chicory."

The chicory plant is quite versatile. The flowers and leaves may be used in salads and flavored vinegar. They are also used in healing tonics in some parts of the world. Each chicory plant has a single, long, thick root (known as a taproot). It's this root that is roasted before it is brewed; it can also be boiled and eaten like a vegetable.

3 Health Benefits of Chicory

Chicory is generally thought to be healthy. Ease into your introduction to chicory and, just like coffee, try not to drink too much at one time.

No Caffeine

Chicory is naturally caffeine free, so if you have an issue with caffeine addiction or caffeine overdose, drinking chicory can be a good way to reduce or eliminate caffeine intake in your diet.

Inulin

Chicory is a good source of inulin. This is a prebiotic fiber that can help with weight loss and gut health. Too much inulin can cause stomach pains, but during roasting, the inulin turns to sugar, which helps eliminate the bitter taste of chicory.

Brain Health

Manganese and vitamin B6 are naturally occurring in chicory and have been tied to improved brain health.

Uses

Chicory has a long history and is one of the oldest recorded types of plants. The plant is native to northern Africa, western Asia, and Europe, and its cultivation is thought to have originated in Egypt in ancient times. Chicory was first used as a coffee substitute or ingredient in France in the early 1800s.

More recently, chicory consumption has been associated with embargoes and cost-cutting. New Orleans, which has a major French influence, was a major consumer of coffee prior to the Civil War. In 1840, coffee importation to the New Orleans harbor was blocked. Harkening back to their French roots, the New Orleans locals began to use chicory instead of coffee.

Today, chicory remains popular in New Orleans, and "New Orleans coffee" typically refers to chicory coffee. New Orleans coffee vendors often blend their coffee with up to 30 percent chicory root. Whether imbibers prefer the taste or lower caffeine content, chicory remains a popular coffee substitute or addition.

How to Drink Chicory

After chicory root is roasted and cut up (or, as some say, "ground," though this is technically incorrect), it is ready to be steeped or brewed. Chicory is more water soluble than coffee, which means you need to use a lot less of it when brewing it with or instead of coffee. 

To brew basic chicory coffee, use about 2/3 ground coffee and 1/3 chicory. Brew as you normally would in a drip coffee maker, a French press, or your favorite method. Enjoy chicory on its own by brewing it as you would any other coffee but begin with at least half the grounds. Add spices like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, or star anise for more flavor.

Since chicory is usually much cheaper than coffee, it's a great substitute if you're on a tight budget. Over-brewing chicory will definitely place you in the anti-chicory camp, so be careful not to use too much or you will ruin the flavor. Begin with 1/2 teaspoon of chicory for every cup you brew and adjust according to your taste.

To make chicory root into an edible (or, technically, potable) substance, the root is pulled up from the ground, washed, dried, roasted, finely cut, and then steeped or brewed. The process gives chicory a roasted flavor roughly akin to that of coffee, and this is its primary appeal in drinks. 

Caffeine Content in Chicory

Chicory contains no caffeine. If you consume it mixed with coffee, you'll get the caffeine effects from the coffee portion of the drink.

Caffeine Content
8 oz. BeverageAverage Caffeine Content
Brewed ChicoryNo caffeine
Chicory Coffee38 mg
Matcha Tea25 to 70 mg
Brewed Coffee85 to 200 mg
 

Buying and Storing

Fresh chicory root can sometimes be found at farmers markets but can be hard to locate. Dried, roasted, and ground chicory root can be purchased in bags from health food stores or online retailers. It costs about $10 for a 16-ounce bag. Coffee and chicory blends are sold in some grocery stores, specialty food stores, and online vendors. The most famous brand is Café Du Monde Coffee and Chicory, which hails from a well-known New Orleans bakery. The distinctive 15-ounce orange tin sells for around $8 to $10. Store the chicory coffee as you would regular ground coffee, in a sealed container.

Recipes

Here are some recipes to try. If the recipe doesn't call for chicory coffee, feel free to swap it in: