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Radicchio – The Delicious Bitter


Written by Annmarie Cannone, Naturopath. M. Hum Nutr, Grad Dip Naturopathy, B. App Sci (Naturopathic Studies).

This beautiful maroon/creamy coloured vegetable, looks like a cabbage but it doesn’t taste like one. Its flavour packs a bitter punch and is one of the most misunderstood vegetables. It is not a cabbage nor a lettuce.

Radicchio as we know it has been cultivated since the 15th Century in the Veneto (North Eastern) region of Italy and is part of the chicory family.  Prior to this, Roman naturalist, Pliny the Elder, mentions the red lined lettuce of Veneto in his encyclopedia, Natural Historica circa. 79 A.D. He noted its flavour and its beneficial effect on sleep and as a blood purifier. It was also mentioned the Egyptians bred radicchio from its wilder, chicory ancestor.

During the middle ages, it was popular among monks to add zest and flavour to their otherwise, bland diet.

The deep red radicchio that we know today, was developed by Belgian cultivator, Franco Van de Borre. This type of radicchio is grown in water or sand in a cool dark cellar. The lack of light prevents chlorophyll production therefore causes the plants to lose their green colour.

Italian cuisine includes quite a lot of radicchio. It is often added to salads daily or even consumed on its own, with a splash of olive oil. In modern cuisine, it is often grilled, added to risotto or even stir fried.

Due to its bitter and peppery flavour, Radicchio is quite often suggested to people who suffer from gallbladder issues or a sluggish liver. Reason being, it aids in the stimulation of bile which helps regulate digestion and assist in the maintenance of liver health. As well as this, it contains inulin, which has a great influence on improving good bacteria.