What Is Chicory, and Why Is It Blended in Coffee?


Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans is known for its unique coffee blend with chicory, a flowering herbaceous plant native to Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia. The plant’s leaves and roots are used in various culinary applications, including steak tartare, radicchio dressed in a vinaigrette alongside veal Milanese, and puntarelle served with anchovies. In beverages, chicory is often steeped in teas, added to bitter root blends for various amari, or brewed with coffee to enhance coffee’s bitter notes.

Chicory is caffeine-free, making it suitable for those who cannot consume caffeine. During the Union blockade of New Orleans during the American Civil War, chicory provided a way to stretch coffee rations. The root of the chicory plant is the most commonly used in the United States, and when raw, it is extremely bitter. When roasted, it has a similar flavor and aroma to freshly roasted coffee, making it a natural pairing.

Chicory has played a role where coffee has been scarce, often used to stretch coffee when rationed. It is also brewed in many spiced coffees of various cultures in the Middle East. Ricoré, a nearly 50/50 blend of chicory and coffee, is still sold in France.

New Orleans is closely associated with chicory, as the French began using chicory root blended with coffee in the late 17th century and made its way to Louisiana through foodways. The rationing and use of chicory during this time played a big role in establishing the plant as an indispensable part of the culinary fabric of the city.

Chicory’s versatility in cocktails is evident, as its innate bitterness makes it the perfect bittering agent to balance other flavors. It can be used in brief steeps, like in a syrup or infusion, to boost the richer notes in Italian vermouth when making Manhattans and Boulevardiers. It can also make for an excellent addition to amari, with dried pieces steeped in Southern Italian or Sicilian amari making for a delicious aperitif.

In conclusion, chicory is a versatile plant that deserves more consideration in the cocktail scene. With creative mixologists experimenting with chicory syrups and infusions, it feels like chicory’s moment in the cocktail scene might be just around the corner.

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Source: Coffee Talk

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