Chicory root coffee: is it good for you?

Chicory root coffee has been around for centuries, even if you’re only hearing about it recently. In fact, if you’ve ever enjoyed a café au lait from the world-famous Café du Monde in New Orleans, you’ve likely already had it.

Suitable caffeine-free alternatives to coffee are generally in short supply. Sure, caffeine-free coffees exist, but they don’t always have the flavor profile you might be looking for. And if you liked tea, well, you’d be drinking tea. It’s hard to say why caffeine-free teas are commonly suggested as a caffeine-less coffee alternative.

That’s where chicory root coffee comes in. It’s a caffeine-free alternative that comes very close to actual coffee made from real coffee beans.

So close, in fact, that the French used roasted chicory root to help stretch the coffee supply when beans were hard to come by.

But is it healthier than regular coffee?

Some suggest there are some chicory root coffee benefits. But it’s probably better to get  an understanding of what chicory root is before jumping to any conclusions.

What Is Chicory Root?

Chicory (Cichorium intybus) is a flowering plant from the dandelion family. So, if you have allergies to pollen or ragweed, you’ll want to avoid it in all its forms—including chicory coffee. The chicory plant is marked by a tough, hairy stem; light purple flowers; and leaves that are sometimes used in salads.

The root of the chicory plant can be separated, roasted, and brewed to be consumed as a beverage. Its color and taste have allowed for the moniker “chicory root coffee,” although there is no coffee in it.

Most of the time.

Sometimes, like at the aforementioned Café Du Monde, chicory root and coffee are served in the same cup.

Really, you can enjoy chicory coffee on its own or combined with actual coffee. Either way, it can help reduce your caffeine intake, if that is an area of concern.

Brewed, roasted chicory root may taste a little woodsier and nuttier than some coffee, but the taste is very similar.

Chicory Root Benefits

Chicory root features a variety of nutrients that may contribute to good health. That said, it’s very difficult to say whether drinking chicory root coffee will offer a significant boost to your health. The amount used in coffee is so small (about two tablespoons, or 11 grams, per cup), that it is unlikely to serve as a significant source of nutrition.

There is very little scientific evidence to show any benefit to drinking chicory root coffee. That said, there is some evidence to suggest that eating chicory root, or certain compounds in it, may offer some benefit.

May Improve Digestive Health

Chicory root is a decent source of fiber, offering up about one gram per 60-gram serving. But perhaps more importantly, it is inulin fiber.

Inulin is closely associated with higher levels of healthy bacteria in the colon. This may help improve overall gut health, transit time, and bowel function.

It may even help treat constipation.

A small study of 44 people found that supplementing with inulin led to softer stool and more frequent bowel movements.

May Positively Affect Blood Sugar and Glucose Metabolism

Research in both animals and humans suggests inulin can have a positive effect on blood sugar and glucose metabolism.

There are small studies showing that chicory root may have an ability to lower blood sugar in humans. It could work by reducing insulin resistance so blood sugar is better absorbed and utilized by cells and tissue.

Insulin resistance occurs when cells and tissue don’t respond well to insulin, which is a hormone released by the pancreas to transport blood sugar. Insulin resistance is marked by increased insulin production and high blood sugar, and is a hallmark of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.

These findings are associated with inulin fiber, and not specifically chicory root.

May Limit Inflammation

There is research to suggest chicory root may have immune-regulating capabilities.

Animal studies have shown that eating chicory root could limit inflammatory markers.

Helps Limit Caffeine Intake

Chicory root is a great coffee alternative for those who are sensitive to caffeine.

People with caffeine intolerance, or those who drink too much of the stimulant, can avoid caffeine intolerance symptoms like:

  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Restlessness
  • Poor sleep/insomnia

Chicory Root Coffee vs. Traditional Coffee

Chicory coffee is certainly enjoying a resurgence in popularity, but is it healthier than traditional coffee? Not even close. At least for now.

Traditional coffee from coffee beans has a number of health benefits. There is a substantial body of work to suggest that coffee drinkers enjoy:

  • Improved kidney function: Research suggests that drinking four or more cups per day is associated with 80% lower risk of cirrhosis.
  • Lower risk of type 2 diabetes: Multiple studies have shown coffee drinkers have a much lower risk of contracting the disease. One study showed that each cup of coffee per day was associated a seven percent reduction in risk. So, two cups, for example, was associated with a 14% risk reduction.
  • Reduced risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia: Research shows coffee drinkers may have up to a 65% lower risk for Alzheimer’s.
  • Lower blood pressure and reduced risk of stroke:

Caffeine also offers health benefits like:

  • Enhanced cognitive performance
  • Fat burning
  • Heart health

Coffee is also a terrific source of antioxidants that can help neutralize free radicals and prevent inflammation.

Does all of this mean that coffee is much healthier than chicory root? Possibly. It could also simply mean that there is a much larger body of research looking at coffee than there is at chicory root coffee.

It should also be noted that the studies mentioned above were observational in nature.

How to Make Chicory Root Coffee

You can purchase ground roasted chicory root to brew your own coffee at home. You can have it black or mixed with regular coffee. For a special treat, you can even make a Café du Monde “Café Au Lait,” with half coffee, half chicory, and a little bit of hot milk.

To brew a cup of chicory root coffee, follow these steps:

  1. Place two cups of water into small saucepan and bring to simmer. While it heats, add two tablespoons of chicory to a pot of water.
  2. When water comes to a boil, allow the chicory root to steep in the pot for five minutes.
  3. Pour through mesh strainer into mug. Sweeten and/or add something creamy, as desired; or drink black.

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