Fibers are increasingly recognized as an indispensable part of our diet and vital for maintaining health. Notably, complex mixtures of fibers have been found to improve metabolic health. Following an analysis of the fiber content of plant-based products, we found the taproot of the chicory plant (Cichorium intybusL.) to be 1 of the vegetables with the highest fiber content, comprising nearly 90% of its dry weight. Chicory roots consist of a mixture of inulin, pectin, and (hemi-)cellulose and also contain complex phytochemicals, such as sesquiterpene lactones that have been characterized in detail. Nowaday, chicory roots are mainly applied as a source for the extraction of inulin, which is used as prebiotic fiber and food ingredient. Chicory roots, however, have long been consumed as a vegetable by humans. The whole root has been used for thousands of years for nutritional, medicinal, and other purposes, and it is still used in traditional dishes in various parts of the world. Here, we summarize the composition of chicory roots to explain their historic success in the human diet. We revisit the intake of chicory roots by humans and describe the different types of use along with their various methods of preparation. Hereby, we focus on the whole root in its complex, natural form, as well as in relation to its constituents, and discuss aspects regarding legal regulation and the safety of chicory root extracts for human consumption. Finally, we provide an overview of the current and future applications of chicory roots and their contribution to a fiber-rich diet.
Keywords: chicory roots; dietary fiber; human nutrition; inulin; traditional medicine.
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