Chicory is a root vegetable not unlike the beet. It became popular as a coffee substitute as early as the 18th century when coffee was scarce during the Napoleonic wars. The root of the chicory plant when roasted, dried and ground, can be blended with coffee or substitute for it entirely.
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Caffeine in Chicory
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 beverage made purely from roasted chicory. In blended coffees, the caffeine content varies based on the ratio of chicory to coffee beans. A 1988 examination of the caffeine content of various beverages published in “Food and Chemical Toxicology” found that chicory-blended coffee had as little as one-third the caffeine as instant coffee, while USDA laboratory measurements have found levels in some chicory coffee blends to be closer to three-quarters of the caffeine in coffee. Each brand and blend has its own levels based on the proportion of chicory to coffee.
In addition to blending chicory with coffee, people have used a number of other roasted plant foods in combination with coffee over the years to stretch a dollar, reduce caffeine or improve flavor. When coffee was too expensive for most people to drink pure, roasted beets, dandelion roots, barley malt, wheat and other roasted cereals were blended into the mix. Mixes are still popular today for their flavor and reduced caffeine content.
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.