Radicchio is the sweetheart salad vegetable of Italian cuisine and a staple in traditional Italian food culture. Chicory, or better said chicories as there are more of them, have been consumed for hundreds of years as a forage food throughout Europe, India and many other parts of Southeast Asia, as well as Africa.
But what exactly is radicchio? What is chicory? Is radicchio a type of chicory? Or is chicory a type of radicchio? Are radicchio and chicory the same thing? Or are they different vegetables? Are the two related and, if so, how?
Is radicchio the same thing as chicory?
Radicchio IS a chicory! Its botanical name, Cichorium intybus, is quite telling of its origin (Chicorium > chicory, chicories). Radicchio is one of the most highly appreciated types of common chicory alongside other popular options such as Belgian endives, asparagus chicory or Catalonian chicory, and variegated salad radicchio or Castelfranco radicchio.
See my guide to chicory greens and endives with pictures of the different types of edible chicories and endives.
Is radicchio a chicory?
Yes, radicchio is a chicory. In fact, radicchio is a type of common chicory. There are quite a few other different types of common chicory besides radicchio, and there are also different type of radicchio too.
How many types of radicchio are there?
- There’s the Treviso radicchio (radicchio di Treviso) which looks just like a magenta-and-white Belgian endive.
- There’s the tardivo radicchio (radicchio tardivo di Treviso) which looks like a lightbulb with magenta-and-white stem-like leaves that curl inwards at the top.
- There’s the Chioggia radicchio (radicchio di Chioggia) which looks like a smaller, magenta and white red cabbage.
- There’s the Castelfranco radicchio, also known as the variegated radicchio, salad radicchio or radicchio lettuce, and, as you’d expect going off of the name, it looks like a green salad or lettuce.
Find out more about foods that look alike: radicchio and red cabbage.
Is chicory a radicchio?
While radicchio is a chicory, chicory is not radicchio. Chicories are a group of related vegetables in the Cichorium genus, daisy or sunflower (Asteraceae) family, radicchio being just one of them. Root chicory is also a type of chicory, different from, but related to radicchio. Wild (leaf) chicory is another type of chicory, related to radicchio, but different from it. Endives are also chicories and related to radicchio.
Note: Endives are not the same thing as Belgian endives – they are both chicories, but not the same species of chicory.
Note: Belgian endives are also called witloof or witlof in the US and Australia, chicory in the UK, chicons in French, invidias in Italian, and endivias in Spanish.
How many types of chicory are there?
- There’s the wild chicory species, a type of leaf chicory, Cichorium pumilum. It grows naturally in the wild and has edible, bitter, green leaves and a taproot that can be ground and roasted and used to make a plant coffee substitute called chicory coffee.
- There’s the common chicory species, Cichorium intybus, which is a cultivated species of chicory with many different varieties (root chicory, radicchio, Belgian endives, asparagus chicory).
- There’s also endives, Cichorium endivia, which are also chicories, despite their common name suggesting otherwise. Endives are predominantly lettuce-like salad vegetables and include two major types: the curly endive or endive frisée, and the escarole or broad-leaved endive.
Note: Although Belgian endives are called endives, they are not true endives. The true endives are the salads escarole and curly endive (frisee).
While radicchio is not the same thing as chicory, it IS a chicory nonetheless. And in addition to radicchio, there are also quite a few other types of chicory: endives (the salads curly endive and escarole), Belgian endives, asparagus chicory (Catalonian chicory), root chicory, and wild chicory.
Whatever the type, most chicories are more or less bitter-tasting which is one of the characteristic traits of this family of vegetables. More important, all chicory varieties, radicchio included, are part of the sunflower or daisy family which is a family of plants with high allergenic potential.
If you have an allergy to sunflowers, daisies, marigolds (calendula), Echinacea, safflower, artichoke, Jerusalem artichoke, chamomile or even regular lettuce, you run a high chance of being allergic to chicories too. It’s better to get tested before including chicories in your diet if you’ve never had them before, but are allergic to related plants.