By Dr. Mercola
Sometimes, all a dish needs to raise its “wow factor” is a pop of color. A vegetable that gets this job done is radicchio (Cichorium intybus L.),1 first cultivated in Italy’s Veneto region during the 15th century.2 See how radicchio has established itself as a prominent ingredient in Italian cuisine, and know the health benefits it has in store for you.
What Is Raddichio?
Radicchio is a quick-growing leafy vegetable that’s actually a variety of leaf-chicory, and is often used for salads in Italy’s Veneto region. Although radicchio resembles red lettuce or cabbage, its bitter-tasting and wine-red leaves set this vegetable apart from other leafy vegetables.3
There are numerous radicchio varieties, named after the Italian regions they originated from. The most common is Choggia, while other notable types include Treviso, an elongated crop that resembles a large Belgian endive or a romaine lettuce heart, and Tardivo and Castelfranco, which both look like flowers and are only available during winter months.4
Radicchio Is Highly Rated for Its Health Benefits
The health benefits you can get from radicchio are seemingly endless. For starters, this vegetable provides important vitamins, such as:5
- B vitamins B1 (thiamin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine) and B9 (folic acid): These help replenish the body and metabolize fat, protein and carbohydrates.
- Vitamin C:6 Radicchio is abundant in vitamin C that’s known for:
|Improving immune system health
||Promoting healing of body cells
||Assisting in body detoxification
|Building up the body’s collagen supply
||Supporting development of good gut bacteria
||Preventing hardening of the arteries
|Neutralizing environmental toxins
||Helping decrease the body’s cholesterol levels
- Vitamin K: This boosts the body's osteotrophic activity (linked with bone formation and strengthening), improves bone health and limits neuronal damage to the brain when vitamin K levels are well-maintained.
Radicchio is home to minerals like copper, iron and zinc. Also, manganese present in radicchio is utilized as a co-factor for an antioxidant enzyme called superoxide dismutase, while potassium aids in counteracting the hypertensive effects of sodium.7 Furthermore, radicchio is a high-fiber vegetable that can:8
- Help encourage digestion and colon cleansing
- Fight intestinal worms and parasites
- Induce satiety to make you feel full quicker and longer
- Encourage weight loss
- Assist with maintaining the body’s metabolism
These health-boosting compounds are found in radicchio, too:9,10
- Lactucopicrin (intybrin): Apart from being responsible for radicchio’s bitter flavor, lactucopicrin may be effective as an anti-malarial agent, possesses sedative and analgesic effects and may even decrease hunger pains.
- Phenolic flavonoid antioxidants zeaxanthin and lutein: These carotenoids protect the eyes from age-related macular degeneration by filtering out harmful ultraviolet rays.
- Phytonutrients lycopene, ellagic acid and quercetin: Phytonutrients assist in regulating blood pressure and reducing amounts of low-density lipoprotein that could cause cancer.
- Inulin: This substance could help balance the body’s blood sugar levels and reduce risk for cardiovascular diseases like strokes and/or heart attacks. Furthermore, the combination of inulin and some polysaccharides could stimulate the growth of beneficial gut bacteria like Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria, and potentially prevent harmful bacteria growth.
Inulin is also known to motivate discharge of pancreatic juices, which could aid with food digestion and blood glucose level control. It also promotes bile production that supports normal cholesterol levels and helps improves heart health and liver health.
Cooking Radicchio at Home
Majority of radicchio in the U.S. is imported from the Mediterranean, particularly Italy, although some varieties are grown locally and marketed year-round in California.
When buying radicchio, look for fresh, compact and bright wine-red colored vegetables with prominent mid-ribs. Inspect for cracks, spots or mechanical bruising on the leaves.11 If you’re buying Treviso or Chioggia varieties, these must have tight and compact leaves, while Verona radicchio should have open and loose leaves.
Store the vegetable inside a refrigerator with a temperature below 46.4 degrees F (8 degrees C) and a relative humidity of 90 percent, for two to three weeks. To prepare radicchio, trim the outer leaves just like a cabbage and wash the head under cool running water. Once done, cut radicchio into quarters or wedges and mix with your favorite dishes.
If unavailable, some radicchio substitutes you can turn to are chicory, Belgian endive, curly endive, arugula or watercress.12,13
Must-Try Radicchio Recipes
Radicchio is typically used in salad recipes, as the leaves have a sharp and pungent flavor. It’s also added to risotto and pasta dishes in the northern Italian region. In the U.S., most people lightly stew the leaves.14
You can slightly grill radicchio chunks, although it’s ideal to eat this vegetable raw, since you’ll obtain most of the nutrients this way.15 If you want an easy raw radicchio recipe to try, look at this Radicchio Cabbage Slaw with Honey Recipe:16
Recipes With Radicchio:
Radicchio Cabbage Slaw With Honey
|2 small heads of organic radicchio (about 8 ounces), halved lengthwise, then cut crosswise into ¼-inch thick strips
||1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
||3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
||3 tablespoons raw honey
|1 medium head organic napa cabbage (about 1 pound), halved lengthwise, then cut crosswise into ¼-inch thick strips
||Freshly ground pepper
||1 teaspoon coarse or Himalayan salt
- Whisk together honey, vinegar and salt in a small bowl.
- Add oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking until well-blended. Season with pepper.
- Toss together cabbage and radicchio in a large bowl. Add dressing and toss to combine.
- Cover and refrigerate for at least five minutes. Just before serving, toss the slaw again.
This recipe makes 4 servings.
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes
How to Grow Radicchio
Radicchio is a small, cabbage-like perennial that grows in cool weather. Make sure it is well-drained and grown on fertile and moisture-rich soil. Radicchio is usually ready to harvest around 75 to 90 days after planting the seedlings.17
Don’t forget to adequately water the plant, and be careful if you’re planting radicchio in warm weather, since this may produce small, dense and bolting heads. The more intense sunlight radicchio is exposed to, the greater is the tendency for the leaves to turn bitter, although the taste is mellowed once radicchio is cooked.
To determine if radicchio is fully grown, check if the vegetable has compact wine-red leaves with distinct white veins, and is about the size of a romaine lettuce. Prior to harvesting, blanch the edible head appropriately. Once you’ve cleaned the plant, harvest the radicchio by cutting the round compact head off the root and trimming the outer copper-green leaves.
If you aim to reduce weight without having to sacrifice delicious food, adding radicchio to your diet can be a wise decision.18
Radicchio Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 100 grams
|Calories from Fat
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.