All manner of confusion surrounds the word “endive.” To the English and the Germans it means the sharp-tasting salad plant with serrated leaves. In France, Belgium and the U.S., endive is the cone-shaped, white to yellow plant resembling a small ear of corn. More frequently it is called Belgian endive because the Belgians have been the plant’s major developers and promoters. The sharp-tasting salad plant is known as chicory to the French, the Belgians and the North Americans, while in England and Germany chicory means, of course, Belgian endive! To add to the perplexity, there is wild chicory. This plant blossoms with distinctive bright blue flowers along roadsides in both Europe and North America. Its root, roasted and ground, is sometimes substituted for coffee, or added to coffee.
Belgian endive ( pronounced ON deeve) is practically a brand new plant, having been “discovered” about 1850. A professional gardener connected with the Brussels Botanical Garden took some wild chicory plants and grew them indoors in a cellar, with dirt mounded up around the base of them, perhaps inadvertently. An assistant, coming upon one such plant, was surprised to discover under the earth what the Belgians now call “white gold,” a white leafed elongated head with yellowish tips. Today’s crisp, tart, Belgian endive. The plant is first grown in the field for about 120 days. Then the leaves are cut back and the root is replanted deep under the ground, under warm conditions, until the plant is forced to grow again, this time in the familiar endive configuration. Some growers use hydroponic methods, growing the plants in a darkened room, roots set in gravel and fed water and liquid fertilizer.
Northern France today leads the world in production, ahead of both Belgium and the Netherlands. Chile exports some endive to the U.S. One California grower is staking his future on endive with increasing success.
Belgian endive is packed with potassium and contains considerable fiber and Vitamin B. Its most important component is probably selenium, a trace element derived from healthy soil, key to blood flow.
Belgian endive plant (Green Power: Leaf and Flower Vegetables, Meredith Sayles Hughes)
Growing Belgian endive indoors (Green Power)
Dishes made from Belgian endive (Time/Life series: A Quintet of Cuisines)
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