What Is Chicory Root?

close up of chicory
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Although it's unlikely that you'll find chicory root in its raw, root form in the supermarket, it is often available in health stores in its ground form or as a supplement. Inulin, a fiber derived from chicory root, is often added to food products to boost fiber content. Chicory root possesses a number of health benefits that make it appealing to those who aren't fond of coffee or would rather avoid the drink's high caffeine content and its side effects.

A Caffeine-Free Coffee Alternative

Chicory root is the root portion of the chicory vegetable and is often used as a substitute for coffee once it's roasted and ground. Ground chicory root has a flavor somewhat reminiscent of coffee, but it doesn't contain caffeine and is also cheaper than traditional coffee. In its ground form, this root vegetable is prevalent as a coffee substitute in the southern United States. Because it's free of caffeine, it won't lead to common coffee side effects such as a jittery feeling or trouble sleeping.

A Source of Fiber

Chicory root is a valuable source of inulin, a type of dietary fiber. The root is often extracted and added to a variety of food products -- breakfast bars, cereal, bread and sometimes even dairy products and chocolate bars -- in order to increase the fiber content. Eating a high-fiber diet can improve your digestion and prevent rapid increases in your blood sugar.

Chicory Root Benefits

The inulin in chicory root is a prebiotic, which means it contributes positively to the healthy bacteria in your gut. It can also prevent the growth of unhealthy bacteria and might suppress diseases such as colon cancer, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research. It might also decrease your body's insulin resistance, which can lower your risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Exercise Caution

The AICR warns that the consumption of inulin can lead to excess gas and bloating, especially when you consume too much of it. The organization also stresses that despite the link between a high-fiber diet and a decreased risk of cancer, you shouldn't view chicory root or inulin as healthy alternatives to whole foods that give you not only fiber, but also a vast selection of phytochemicals.