Chicory Cichorium Intybus A Crop For Industry Biology Essay

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The following is a section on the chicory plant, which can be a fine substitute for coffee. This will describe the characteristics of this plant.


Chicory is a familiar wild plant found mainly in the calcareous soils of Northern Europe. It has been traditionally cultivated in European agriculture as a grassland herb, as a root crop to produce a coffee substitute, or as a vegetable in which the young shoots are eaten. This is both a hardy biennial and a short-lived perennial belonging to the sunflower family. It has a long stout tap-root which penetrates deep into the soil. During the first season, a rosette of shiny oblong leaves is produced, each likely to have a prominent midrib and rounded or pointed at the ends. The stiffly erect, tough grooved stem appears during the second summer. The mature chicory plant may grow to 150 cm in cultivated types. The flowers are large and azure blue, sometimes pink or white. Flowers are borne on upper parts of leaves on very short individual stalks. Flowers open successively upwards, though they will often close during dull weather.

Details of Quality Characteristics

Chicory is of interest to the industry because the swollen taproot contains a high proportion of the storage carbohydrate inulin. At harvest, roots contain 75% inulin on a dry matter basis. Inulin is a polymer of fructose molecules with an end glucose molecule and can be used for the production of fructose syrups. Fructose is about 1.3 times sweeter than beet sugar, so fewer calories are used for the equivalent sweet sensation. In addition, fructose syrups may be used as feed stocks for fermentation processes and chemical transformations with a wide range of applications.


As indigenous to Europe, India, and Egypt, chicory was introduced to the US in the late 19th century. It grows as a weed in temperate climates and is widely cultivated in northern Europe. There are two principle types: The Brunswick variety has deeply cut leaves and generally spreads horizontally; the Magdeburg variety has undivided leaves and grows erect. Chicory has bright blue flowers that bloom from July to September. The dried root is the primary part of the plant used.


Chicory flowers contain cichoriin, which is 6, 7-glucohydroxycoumarin. The roots contain up to 8% inulin (a polysaccharide), a bitter principle consisting of 1 part protocatechuic aldehyde to three parts inulin, as well as lactucin and lactucopicrin.3 It constituents of the greens include chicoric acid (dicaffeoyl tartaric acid), flavonoids, catechol tannins, glycosides, carbohydrates, unsaturated sterols and triterpenoids, sesquiterpene lactones, and tartaric acid.4 , 5 Leaf proteins from chicory greens have also been reported. 6

The root contains a large number of steam-distillable aromatic compounds. Acetophenone provides the characteristic chicory aroma. Upon roasting, inulin is converted to oxymethylfurfural, a compound with a coffee-like smell. 5 Fructan:fructan 6G-fructosyltransferase (6G-FFT) was found to be an important enzyme in the formation of inulin. According to one report, the introduction of 6G-FFT from one plant into chicory resulted in inulin synthesis.7 Chicory is the source of the taste-modifier, maltol, which is known to intensify the flavor of sugar.

The caffeine content of beverages containing chicory was determined using high pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC). A coffee/chicory mixture substitute contains 3.18mg/fl oz of caffeine, whereas instant coffee contains 12.61mg/fl oz of caffeine.8

In identifying closely related chicory varieties, the use of polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis followed by leucine aminopeptidase and the esterase staining of bulked seed sample extracts have been developed. 9

Current Production and Yields

The major production is in Belgium where over a hundred years ago 13,000 ha were grown under cultivation. This decreased to less than 100 ha in 1970. Currently some 5,000 ha are cultivated annually in Belgium and the Netherlands; this area is expected to increase. Production is also reported in France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, and South Africa. Yields are generally comparable with beet, up to 50t/ha of fresh roots being produced, giving about 9t inulin/ha.

Production potential:

Country Name

Fresh Root t/ha

Dry Root t/ha





Baert et al,1993(1)



Meijer et al,1993




Frese et al,1991(2)




Dersch et al,1993

Constraints upon Production

Chicory prefers a humid climate, although wet summers are unfavorable. It is well adapted to the climate of Western Europe. It is susceptible to soil-borne Sclerotinia and Rhizoctonia spp. so an adequate period between crops is essential. It is also a host of the nematode Meloidogyne hapla but it is not hampered by it. Chicory is not a host of the beet cyst nematode (Heterodera schachtii).

Markets and Market Potential

In many agricultural systems in Europe, chicory is a more reliable producer of inulin than Jerusalem artichoke because crop yield is considerably less variable. Work to improve yields, root shape, and disease resistance of the inulin-producing varieties is ongoing in Belgium, the Netherlands, France, and Germany. Derivatives of inulin may be useful for a wide variety of industrial applications for example in the production of detergents, solvents, polymers, pharmaceuticals and plant protection agents. Chicory can be eaten in several forms; coffee, leaves, flowers and roots. Leaves and flowers can be added to salads but often have a rather bitter taste. Roots are cooked like parsnips and are eaten as a vegetable. Inulin is a starch that cannot be digested by humans; it tends to pass straight through the digestive system. Due to this inulin can be used to make a sweetener that is suitable for diabetics to use. The roasted root is used as a caffeine-free coffee adulterant or substitute. Young roots have a slightly bitter caramel flavor when roasted, while roots over two years old are much more bitter. There are three main types of chicory grown for their leaves, with many cultivars in each form:

A bitter tasting loose-leaved form is grown as a green winter vegetable, especially in southern Italy.

A narrow-leaved, whitloof or Belgian form has a compact elongate head (chicon) blanched for use in salads or cooked dishes.

A broad-leaved (usually red) form produces cabbage-like hearts, are generally less bitter than the other forms, and are eaten raw or cooked. These forms are often used as a winter salad crop.

Chicory can also be used as an herbal remedy, particularly for its tonic affect upon the liver and digestive tract. Both roots and leaves can be used, although roots are more active medicinally. Root extracts have experimentally produced a slower and weaker heart rate. The latex in the stems can also be applied to warts to destroy them. The crop also has potential as a biomass crop for industrial use; they are rich in the starch ‘inulin’ which can easily be converted to alcohol. A blue dye has also been obtained from the leaves.

Other Information

Chicory is sometimes included in seed mixtures on shallow, chalky soils in Englandâ€"where pigs and cattle eat the leavesâ€"and for the effect of the deep tap root breaking up the subsoil. Chicory can be a good plant for grazing, producing forage with 18-22% protein and 62-77% dry matter content. Chicory should be grazed heavily for short periods of time, leaving a stubble height of 1.5-2 inches. This intense grazing should prevent plants from bolting. A rest period of at least 25-30 days between grazing will allow chicory stand persistence and optimum performance. It can be grown as a root crop, the roots being processed for the manufacture of a coffee substitute. For this Magdeburg chicory is used, drilled at about 5 kg/ha and yields about 25t/ha.

The crop requires deep, well-drained soils and although yields will be reduced, it will tolerate a degree of drought. It is sown in April when the soil has warmed. The plant population should be 15-20 plants per m2 in rows 45-50 cm apart. Weed control is important during slow early growth. Some herbicides are available for use in chicory. It responds well to applications of N, P, and K. Up to 150 kg/ha nitrogen, 200kg/ha phosphate, and 250 kg/ha potash is recommended for good yields. For optimum production, pH should be in the range of 4.5-8.3 (preferably 5.5-7.0). Roots are normally lifted during October and November, using the same techniques as for sugar beet. Machinery may have to be adapted to suit chicory as roots are generally smaller and more fragile; conveyor speeds should be reduced and chain links narrowed.

In Europe, chicory is generally followed in the rotation by a cereal crop. A rotation of at least five years is strongly recommended to avoid soil exhaustion and other problems. It is recommended that chicory does not follow these crops in the rotation: sugar beet (where weed beet can multiply); maize (where herbicide residues are a potential problem); and potatoes and oilseed rape (where volunteers can be a problem).

Chicory is a good bee plant; flowers open in the morning and generally close around midday. The maximum life chicory stands with good quality will be about five to seven years.