History and health benefits of radicchio

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By Rachel Maniquis

Radicchio, sometimes called Italian chicory, is a leafy perennial vegetable that is widely used in Italian cuisine.

Cultivation of the vegetable began in the 15th Century in Italy’s Veneto region. According to AcademiaBarilla.com:

It was cultivated early on, originally by planting wild seed in the fields and vegetable garden. The radicchio that you find today is the result of the experiments of 19th century agronomists who engineered particular plants using a technique called imbianchiamento, or “whitening.”

There are many types of radicchio, which are named after the principal Italian cities where they are grown. Some of the more widely consumed types include the Radicchio of Chioggia, which is round and resembles a red cabbage, and the Radicchio of Treviso, which is oblong with unique curly leaves.

Late (Tardivo) red radicchio of Treviso
Late (Tardivo) red radicchio of Treviso

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Packed with vitamins and minerals, radicchio leaves are crispy and have a beautiful intense wine color with white veins. Their signature bitterness may be an acquired taste to some people.

The distinctive flavor is caused by a chemical compound called lactucopicrin, an agent known to have a sedative and pain-killing effect. It’s no wonder this vegetable has been used for healing purposes throughout history.

Radicchio Salad

Radicchio leaves have very few calories and healthy amounts of B-vitamins and Vitamin K, which is important for healthy bones. They are also rich in antioxidants and dietary fiber.

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Risotto with radicchio
Risotto with radicchio

It is commonly eaten grilled or roasted with olive oil, in salads, or as an ingredient in Italian risotto.

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