You may think of chicory in your coffee as a New Orleans thing, but adding this ground root to a morning cup of coffee has health benefits. Adding chicory to your coffee or drinking it straight up as a coffee substitute can, however, cause digestive distress and allergic reactions in some people.
Before sipping, know the possible side effects so you can make an informed decision and determine if it's right for you.
What Is Chicory?
Chicory is a root of the endive plant, a type of bitter lettuce. When roasted and ground, chicory root resembles coffee. Adding chicory to coffee has been popular in France since the 1700s, and when the French laid their roots in New Orleans, it became popular there as well, according to New Orleans' iconic eatery Café Du Monde.
When Union blockades cut off the port of New Orleans during the American Civil War, citizens couldn't get deliveries of coffee. Residents began mixing their coffee with chicory to stretch the supply and, although it wouldn't have offered the buzz of caffeine, it was similar enough in taste to be an acceptable substitute.
People now add chicory to their coffee to help soften the bitter edge of dark-roasted coffee. You might enjoy adding chicory to your coffee for this simple flavor adjustment.
You can still enjoy the great flavor and aroma of traditional coffee by choosing chicory coffee (without any real coffee beans) as a caffeine-free alternative. Mixing chicory into your existing cup of coffee can also help you cut back on caffeine, especially if you're doing so for health reasons.
Does Chicory Have Caffeine?
The chicory plant does not contain caffeine. Because the plant is caffeine-free, roasted beverages made exclusively from chicory or from chicory blended with other substances without caffeine are also caffeine-free.
It is more common to find coffee blended with chicory than to find a drink made purely from roasted chicory. In coffee-chicory blends, the caffeine content varies based on the ratio of chicory to coffee beans. An older 1988 study in Food and Chemical Toxicology found that chicory-blended coffee had as little as 1/3 the caffeine as instant coffee, while USDA measurements have found levels in some chicory coffee blends to be closer to 3/4 of the caffeine in coffee. Each brand and blend has its own levels based on the ratio of chicory to coffee.
Health Benefits of Chicory Coffee
1. It's Rich in Soluble Fiber
The root contains a soluble fiber known as inulin. An August 2016 paper in Carbohydrate Polymers notes that chicory roots are the richest source of this fiber, which acts as a prebiotic, fat replacer, sugar replacer and texture modifier. It's also added to many "functional" foods that are touted for their ability to boost your digestive health.
Getting enough soluble fiber is associated with lower cholesterol and blood pressure, healthy gastrointestinal function and several other digestive and health benefits, according to a February 2010 review in Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety.
The benefit of inulin in chicory coffee is that it doesn't really raise your blood sugar level, which makes it valuable for people with diabetes. A study published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine in July 2015 showed that chicory root is linked to delaying the onset of type 2 diabetes and improving bowel function.
2. It Can Help Relieve Constipation
And therein lies another benefit of chicory: Because the inulin in chicory is a natural laxative, adding some to your coffee can help move things along and regulate your bowels.
In the February 2017 issue of the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, researchers tested the effects of a chicory-derived fermentable dietary fiber on healthy people with constipation. Those who took the chicory-derived supplement experienced softer stools and improved bowel function.
Coffee can also have a laxative effect, so drinking chicory coffee delivers a double whammy against constipation.
3. It Might Be Anti-Inflammatory
Chicory coffee's antioxidant effects is linked to thrombosis and inflammation prevention, according to a May 2011 study in Phytotherapy Research. Participants who drank about 10 ounces of chicory coffee daily showed reduced blood and plasma viscosity after only one week, which researchers attributed to the antioxidants in the drink.
These phenolic antioxidants also fight against free radical damage in the body, protecting major organs and systems from oxidative stress.
Chicory Coffee Side Effects
The main chicory root side effect is that too much inulin might lead to stomach cramping, flatulence, constipation, diarrhea and other digestive distress, per a December 2014 paper in the journal Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Safety. But most people can tolerate up to 20 grams per day.
In fact, research in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology in August 2017 showed that a daily dose of inulin derived from chicory promotes healthy gut bacterial growth and may improve gut function. Bonus: It's well-tolerated by people with gastrointestinal complaints.
Every person is different, however, and you may experience side effects with a smaller dose. If you find you're gassier than usual after adding chicory to your coffee, chicory may be the culprit.
People who are allergic to birch pollens need to steer clear of chicory because it can trigger allergy symptoms. A November 2015 report in the Journal of Allergy notes that chicory is one of several fruits and vegetables with compounds similar to birch and can trigger issues in the oral cavities of sensitive people. This means you may experience issues such as swelling, tingling and pain in the throat and mouth after ingesting chicory.
If you do experience uncomfortable symptoms after taking chicory in your coffee and think you have a chicory root allergy, stop using it and see your doctor.
Pregnancy and Chicory
Keep in mind if you're pregnant that the use of chicory during pregnancy has not been studied, so its safety has not been established, according to a November 2017 BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine report. It's safe to limit your coffee intake during pregnancy, but leave the chicory out. Pregnant people should have less than 200 milligrams per day or about one 12-ounce cup of coffee, per the American Pregnancy Association.
No research exists on how chicory affects breastfeeding people or babies, either. So, it's best to skip it until you're done with this stage of development.
Is Chicory in Coffee Good?
Everyone's taste differs. Some people love the mellowing effect chicory has on their coffee, especially when it's served with beignets. From a health perspective, adding chicory can certainly help you whittle down your caffeine intake. Plus, you may get health benefits such as more moderate blood sugar levels and better gut health.
All in all, the potential side effects of chicory don't outweigh its benefits (provided you don't have a birch allergy).
People who wish to forgo coffee altogether for health reasons will find a number of coffee substitutes made from the same ingredients formerly used to stretch coffee. Roasted cereal beverages are crystallized to use like instant coffee. Anything from barley and wheat to soybeans and chicory can be roasted and ground as a substitute for coffee.
Although these beverages do not exactly mimic the taste of coffee, they are similar enough to stand in as a hot beverage for someone avoiding coffee.
- Smithsonian Magazine: "The History of the Chicory Coffee Mix That New Orleans Made Its Own"
- Cafe Du Monde: "Coffee Black or Au Lait"
- Ancient Science of Life: "Anti-Inflammatory Activity of Roots of Cichorium Intybus Due to Its Inhibitory Effect on Various Cytokines and Antioxidant Activity"
- Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine: "Effects of the Extract From Roasted Chicory (Cichorium intybus L.) Root Containing Inulin-Type Fructans on Blood Glucose, Lipid Metabolism, and Fecal Properties"
- Carbohydrate Polymers: "Inulin: Properties, Health Benefits and Food Applications"
- Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology: "Effect of Chicory-Derived Inulin on Abdominal Sensations and Bowel Motor Function"
- Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety: "Significance of Inulin Fructans in the Human Diet"
- Journal of Allergy: "Oral Allergy Syndrome: An Update for Stomatologists"
- BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine: "Safety Classification of Herbal Medicines Used Among Pregnant Women in Asian Countries: A Systematic Review"
- American Pregnancy Association: "Caffeine Intake During Pregnancy"
- International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition: "Effect of Consumption of Chicory Inulin on Bowel Function in Healthy Subjects With Constipation: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial"