|Species||Cichorium intybus var. foliosum|
|Cultivar group||Radicchio Group|
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||96 kJ (23 kcal)|
|Dietary fiber||0.9 g|
|Vitamin A equiv.|
|Pantothenic acid (B5)|
|†Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults. |
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
Radicchio (// or //; Italian pronunciation: [raˈdikkjo]) is a perennial cultivated form of leaf chicory (Cichorium intybus, Asteraceae) sometimes known as Italian chicory because of its common use in Italian cuisine. It is grown as a leaf vegetable and usually has colorful white-veined red leaves that form a head. Radicchio has a bitter and spicy taste which mellows if it is grilled or roasted.
Pliny the Elder said that radicchio was useful as a blood purifier and an aid for insomniacs in Naturalis Historia. Radicchio contains intybin, a sedative/analgesic, as well as a type of flavonoid called anthocyanin, which is used in making dye-sensitized solar cells.
Modern cultivation of the plant began in the fifteenth century in the Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Trentino regions of Italy, but the deep-red radicchio of today was engineered in 1860 by Belgian agronomist Francesco Van den Borre, who used a technique called imbianchimento (whitening), preforcing, or blanching to create the dark red, white-veined leaves. The plants are taken from the soil and placed in water in darkened sheds, where lack of light and ensuing inhibition of chlorophyll production cause the plants to lose their green pigmentation.
The varieties of radicchio are named after the Italian regions where they originate: the most widely available variety in the United States is radicchio di Chioggia, which is maroon, round, and about the size of a grapefruit.
Other varieties include 'Tardivo', and the white-colored radicchio di Castelfranco, both of which resemble flowers and are only available in the winter months, as well as 'Gorizia' (also known as "Rosa di Gorizia"), 'Trieste' (Cicoria zuccherina or Biondissima) and 'Witloof/Bruxelles' (also known as Belgian endive, and "chicon/endive" in French). Radicchio farmers of the Veneto have sought to have Protected Geographical Status applied to the names of some radicchio varieties including 'Tardivo'.
In Italian cuisine, it is usually eaten grilled with olive oil, or mixed into dishes such as risotto. It can also be served with pasta, or be used in strudel, as a poultry stuffing, or an ingredient for a tapenade.
According to folklore, long-term use of chicory as a coffee substitute may damage human retinal tissue, with dimming of vision over time and other long-term effects. Modern scientific literature contains little or no evidence to support or refute this claim. Root chicory contains volatile oils similar to those found in plants in the related genus Tanacetum which includes tansy, and is likewise effective in eliminating intestinal worms. All parts of the plant contain these volatile oils, with most of the toxic components concentrated in the plant's root.
Studies indicate that ingestion of chicory by farm animals results in reduction of worm burdens, which has prompted its widespread use as a forage supplement. There are only a few major companies active in research, development and production of chicory varieties and selections. Most are in New Zealand.
Radicchio is easy to grow but performs best in spring (USDA Zone 8 and above) and autumn (everywhere) / fall (US) gardens. It prefers more frequent but not deep watering, the amount of water varying based on soil type. Infrequent watering will lead to a more bitter tasting leaf. However, for autumn crops the flavor is changed predominantly by the onset of cold weather (the colder, the mellower), which also initiates the heading and reddening process in traditional varieties. There are newer, self-heading varieties whose taste is not yet as good as a traditional variety which has matured through several frosts or freezes (e.g., Alouette). Radicchio matures in approximately three months. However, it can be made to stand through a UK or West European winter, and the head will regenerate if cut off carefully above ground level, so long as the plant is protected against severe frost. A light-excluding cover, e.g. an inverted pot, may be used during the latter phases of growth to produce leaves with a more pronounced colour contrast, simultaneously protecting against frost and cold winds. Traditionally in the UK, the first cutting of all chicory heads was simply thrown away, and the tender, forced, second head was for the table. However, improved varieties of radicchio, e.g. Rosso di Verona, and generally milder winters allow the West European cultivator to harvest two or more crops from a single planting.
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