Eating radicchio isn’t only for Italian cooking, and with a wealth of health benefits to offer, this leafy vegetable is definitely something you want to add to your diet.
What is Radicchio?
Radicchio is a perennial and widely cultivated variety of chicory and is commonly referred to as Italian chicory. In fact, most of the radicchio that is consumed around the world are named for the various parts of Italy where the cultivar originated. Scientifically, this vegetable is known as Cichorium intybus. Physically speaking, radicchio ranges in size, but is generally the size of a grapefruit and is covered in red or maroon leaves, often lined with white veins.
Unlike many other leafy vegetables, radicchio is occasionally eaten raw, as it does have some bitter and spicy flavor components. However, when these leaves are steamed or grilled, that bitterness fades, leaving behind a pleasant flavor that complements vegetable, fish, and pasta dishes. That being said, there is plenty of use for these leaves in a salad, particularly if it is topped with an acidic vinaigrette that can mask some of the strong taste.
When it comes to nutrition, this leafy vegetable provides great amounts of vitamin K, as well as moderate amounts of copper, folate, vitamin E, dietary fiber, protein, and vitamin C. Radicchio also provides a number of sesquiterpenes and other antioxidants, many of which have significant effects on overall health. The vegetable is very low in calories, sugars, and carbohydrates, but does contain some omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Radicchio Health Benefits
Given the high level of vitamin C found in this leafy vegetable, it has long been considered an immune system booster. Furthermore, thanks to the presence of lutein, zeaxanthin, and other polyphenolic compounds, radicchio can further relieve the strain on the immune system by reducing chronic inflammation.
Detoxify the Body
Numerous studies have found that eating this leafy vegetable can help to stimulate liver function, speeding up the process of eliminating toxins and waste from the body, and keeping the blood clean.
Due to the extremely low-calorie count, this vegetable provides an easy way to satiate your appetite without compromising your weight loss and caloric goals. In some cases, similar to celery, eating this vegetable burns more calories than it adds to your day.
Vitamin K plays a key role in everything from bone mineral density to blood coagulation and repair processes. With more than 100% of the daily requirement for this vitamin in each serving, radicchio is an excellent way to protect against osteoporosis.
Lutein and zeaxanthin have been widely researched for their effects on vision health, specifically in preventing macular degeneration and the development of cataracts.
Antioxidants are able to reduce the amount of inflammation in the neurological system and slow the deposition of beta-amyloid plaque. This can slow the onset, or even help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.
If a recipe calls for radicchio and you find your vegetable crisper empty, there are some viable substitutes, including the following:
These vegetables also tend to be high in antioxidants and low in calories, and similarly can provide a spicy, earthy flavor to many dishes.
How to Use?
For those who want to use this vegetable more often in their diet, some of the best recipes include salads, vegetable juices, sautéing the vegetables, salting the leaves or pairing them with sweeter ingredients.
- Salads: Like red cabbage, this leafy vegetable adds a tangy and unusual flavor to any salad, particularly those with lemon-based dressing to counter the mildly bitter flavor.
- Vegetable Juice: Mixing these leaves in with celery, spinach, kale, carrots, and apples can make a delicious and nutrient-dense shake that will keep you full all day!
- Sautéing: When you sauté these leaves, the bitter compound (lactucopicrin) in this vegetable is neutralized, which can improve the flavor, making the leaves more versatile in other recipes.
- Salting: Salting the leaves or pairing it with capers, pickles or lemons can help to minimize the potency of the flavor.
- Sweetening: Some people enjoy pairing these leaves with sugar or fruit jams to balance the tastes.
How to Select & Store?
Before storing this vegetable, you should know how to choose one!
- You want to select firm heads that seem crisp and fully hydrated.
- Avoid any that are wilted or have been browning at the edges
- Avoid those that feel too light for their size
Due to their small size, many people use an entire radicchio in a single serving/sitting. However, if you do want to store this vegetable, simply wrap it in a paper towel and seal it in a plastic bag. This should be kept in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.