Chicory grows in various parts of the United States and also in the Mediterranean region of Europe. In Europe, it is used to make a coffee substitute. During World War II, when normal shipping was disrupted, chicory root was used as a coffee substitute in the United States as well. Though most people have long since resumed drinking coffee, it is still possible to sometimes find the chicory root "coffee" in the southern United States, particularly around New Orleans.
Chicory root fiber contains a carbohydrate fiber called inulin. Inulin is used in breakfast bars, ice cream, yogurt, salad dressing and other edible products. It has a texture that is creamy, and can be substituted for fat. It also has some sweetening power, about one-tenth that of sugar. Because it is a fiber, it possesses the benefits of helping to maintain a good balance of proper bacteria in the gut, plus it helps prevent constipation. It can also help lower cholesterol levels.
Because it doesn’t have the dry taste or texture of other fibers, such as wheat bran or oat bran, it becomes easy to eat too much of it. Too much of anything, even fiber, can bring on a reaction. Some of the symptoms of too much fiber are flatulence, bloating, gas, stomach cramps, digestive “rumbling” and constipation. A University of Minnesota study from 2010 found that most healthy people can ingest up to five grams of “sweet” inulin or ten grams of native inulin, with perhaps some symptoms of flatulence.
One drawback to chicory root fiber is that people who are allergic to ragweed pollen and related plants might have an allergic reaction. Those related plants include daisies, chrysanthemums, marigolds and other members from the same plant family.
The next time you enjoy a breakfast bar or some ice cream, flip the container over and read the ingredients. You might find you have been eating chicory root fiber in the form of inulin and never knew it.