How come chicory has become sweeter?
Chicory or endives are a quintessentially Belgian vegetable. The crisp curly and bitter leaves of the pant can be eaten raw in salads or cooked. People say that today chicory isn’t as bitter as it used to be but is that true? VRT’s Inspector - from the consumer affairs radio programme of the same name - went to find out and came back with the answer for us!
“It’s true” says chicory grower Patrick Van Ingelom, who has a chicory farm in Kampenhout (Flemish Brabant Province). “It’s less bitter and even slightly sweeter!”
Well, there we have our answer, but how come chicory, ‘witloof’ in Dutch, has become sweeter? Patrick takes up the story.
“I’ve been growing chicory for 35 years now. My great grandfather started the business in Kampenhout in 1922”.
Meanwhile, the fourth generation is now running the business. Patrick has seen the vegetable develop over the years.
“It’s true in recent years chicory has become less bitter. In my youth chicory was a lot more bitter. That’s just as well because today our taste has sweetened”.
Less bitter chicory is no accident: “Sweeter chicory is the result of the selection process. Which chicory seeds are used to grow the new crop is the result of an extensive selection process. Each year selectors examine the new chicory varieties and make a new seed selection”.
“Today the selectors work for the company that produces the chicory seeds. The new seeds are the result of crossing various varieties. His or her aim is to produce a better variety in the future”.
“By crossing varieties the best characteristics of one variety are paired with the best characteristics of another. There has been an evolution in public taste. If selectors opt for a sweeter variety because they believe it is tastier, then this variety is used by the farmer. The sweeter variety then ends up in a store near you!”
“When my great grandfather started to farm chicory in the Twenties, he did the selection himself. That was the old way of doing things. Today that’s a job for a dedicated selector. It’s a quicker, smoother process that today takes place in the laboratory. Today farmers buy all their seeds straight from seed merchants” explains Patrick.