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WWII coffee substitute enjoys chic transformation

Chicory is now very fashionable

Many people may still think of chicory as an ingredient in the ersatz coffee first manufactured during WWII, but in fact it is still used as an ingredient in many different recipes.
Chicoree du Nord, a family business halfway between Calais and Dunkirk in Pas-de-Calais, has been roasting chicory since 1934. The fourth generation to run the company, Agnès Lutun, is proud that the company is the second largest producer of chicory in France.
“There are only two chicory roasting companies left in France,” she said, “so it’s quite a rare thing.” The family name, Lutun is still the brand name of the chicory products they make. “And the reason we are here beside the sea is that originally, chicory farmers valued the sandy soil which meant they could pull the roots out of the ground without breaking them, which is very difficult in heavier soil.”
She says that today chicory is valued for its warm caramel flavour and for being caffeine-free. “It can taste a bit like spéculoos, and is popular as a herbal tea. I drink it in the evenings because I find it aids digestion and unlike coffee, it doesn’t keep me awake.”
She also uses it to flavour her own distinctive version of salmon gravlax. “It adds a fabulous flavour and intensifies the flavour of the fish. In fact it intensifies any flavour, both sweet or savoury. It’s wonderful in crème brûlée and in ice cream.”
Chicorée Lutun is exported all to countries including the US, Australia, North Africa, Mediterranean nations, and Russia, where it has a modern image and is used as a convenient cooking ingredient, prized for its deep chestnut colour as well as its flavour.
Chicory, which is in the same family as the common dandelion, is prepared from the plant’s root, which is washed, finely sliced and dried before being roasted to develop a chestnut colour and a distinctive taste.
It can then be dried into flakes or a liquid. The flakes can be added to ground coffee and percolated as normal to make chicory-flavoured coffee, but the liquid is easier to use as a flavouring as it dissolves easily in all liquids.
Try chicory ice cream: mix 25cl of crème fraîche, 12cl of milk, 170g of sugar with 3 soup spoons of liquid chicory and freeze (quantities freeze quickly and make four servings).

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