About the Chicory Root
Chicory (Chicorium intybus) is a herb distinguished by its unique blue flowers. It can be found throughout all parts of North American and Europe. Chicory has many uses in current cuisine. Chicory root (Chicorium intybus var. sativum) is commonly used as a coffee substitute, or coffee additive. Furthermore, the plant is the source for endive (also known as radicchio, Belgian endive, or French endive). However, an added benefit of the chicory root is that it is one of the foods with the highest concentration of inulin. Chicory inulin can be extracted from the root and used as an ideal ingredient in functional foods. Using the chicory inulin in this manner can lead to a number of health benefits.
Is Chicory Inulin Natural?
Chicory root inulin is not synthesized or modified during the extraction process. Acquiring inulin from the root of the chicory involves processing steps where the inulin is extracted, purified, and then spray-dried. However, the extracted inulin is chemically indistinguishable from “native” inulin. Though the inulin cannot be considered “unprocessed”, the process is completely natural.
Why is Chicory the Best Source of Inulin?
All inulin is not the same. Inulin is composed of a mixture of oligomers and polymers of different degree of polymerisation. What this means is that the composition of inulin in terms of chain length depends on its source. Chicory root inulin has a relatively longer chain than other types or sources of inulin. This provides several advantages over inulin with shorter chain lengths. As an example, fat can be replaced with chicory root inulin, but not with other types or sources of inulin, due to the longer chain length of chicory root inulin. Due to the chain length, and consistent composition, the chicory root inulin consistently maintains constant nutritional properties.
Further to its compositional advantages, the chicory root physically resembles sugar beet. Since equipment already exists to process the sugar beet, adapting this equipment to process the chicory root is straight forward. Rather then re-inventing the wheel to extract inulin from other sources, the extraction process requires only small modifications. We are left with a source of inulin that is high in concentration, as well as relatively easy to process.