Endive is a leafy vegetable and a cool season crop that belongs to the aster family. It is native to Asia Minor but is now found in Europe and North America. or in partial shade. The best quality plants are grown in areas with cool summers (high temperatures stimulate the production of bitter substances in the leaves). Endive was an important part of the diet of the ancient Romans, Greeks and Egyptians and is still very popular and common in Europe.
Endive is native to the Asia Minor region.
Most types of endive can reach 6 to 10 inches in height (rarely up to 24 inches).
This cool-season crop requires well-drained fertile soil to flourish.
Variety of endive called escarole has central head with smooth, upright, wide and flat, green leaves with serrated edges and thick leaf stalks.
There exist two main cultivar varieties of endive: curly-endive (Frisée, Cichorium endivia, var crispum) with narrow curly leaves, and Escarole or scarole (Cichorium endivia, var latifolia) with broad leaves.
Variety of endive called frisee has curly leaves that are much narrower compared with leaves of escarole. Both types of endive are chewier than lettuce.
Belgian endive or witloof is a popular winter season vegetable in Europe.
Belgian endive has smooth, cream-colored leaves densely packed in torpedo-shaped heads.
Endive is one of the very low-calorie leafy vegetables. 100 g fresh leaves carry just 17 calories; however, it contributes about 8% of the daily-required intake (DRI) of fiber.
Belgian farmer has “discovered” Belgian endive in 1830 when he found that roots of chicory can sprout and produce creamy-colored leafy heads when stored in wet, dark conditions. Even though this “new” plant is only a variety of common chicory, it soon became popular as new type of vegetables called “white gold”, better known as “witloof” today.
Endive and escarole carry numerous medicinally important compounds such as sesquiterpene lactones and plant sterols.
Unlike Belgian endive, endive is cultivated in the rows in the fields, just like lettuce.
Lactones such as lactucopicrin which give a bitter taste to endive have been found to have anti-tumor, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Endive produces pale blue flowers on top of the flowering stem. Flowers contain both types of reproductive organs (perfect flowers).
Endive composes good amount Vitamin-A and ß-carotene.
Endive blooms during the summer. Flowers attract bees that are responsible for the pollination of this plant.
Fresh endive is available all around the year in the markets. Choose crispy, tender leafy tops. Avoid tough, discolored yellow leaves.
Endive propagates via seed.
Store greens in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. It will stay fresh for 3-4 days.
Endive is good source of vitamins A, K and vitamins of the B group and minerals such as manganese, copper, iron and potassium.
Curly endive is generally available in the stores as blanched pale “frisée.”
Endive has crunchy texture and robust, slightly bitter flavor. Leaves in the center have sweetish taste. Endive can be used for the preparation of salads, soups, stir-fries, curry or it can be cooked and consumed like spinach. Endive can be also mixed with other vegetables and used for the preparation of healthy juices.
Witloof is used raw in salads or braised and served as a vegetable.
Covering of endive with baskets, boxes or pots during a period of 2 to 4 weeks (process called blanching) is used to reduce amount of bitter compounds in the leaves.
Endive is widely consumed all over Europe and in some American states. Although this green leafy vegetable contains high concentrations of bitter glycosides and inulin, no known side effects so far notified when used in moderate quantities.
Endive can prevent cataract, macular degeneration, anemia and development of certain types of cancer. It also aids digestion and improves function of liver and gallbladder.
Belgian endive is available year-round with a peak season in the winter months.
Kaempferol, substance found in endive, has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, analgesic and anti-allergic properties. It also acts beneficially on the cardiovascular and nervous systems.
Belgian endive is a source of thiamin, potassium, calcium, magnesium, vitamins B6 and C, as well as folate and copper.
Endive can be cultivated as annual (life span: one year) or biennial plant (life span: 2 years).
In the United States Belgian endive is considered to be a gourmet and expensive vegetable and typically used raw in salads or as an appetizer consisting of individually stuffed leaves.