The little Kingdom of Belgium is known for its chocolate, waffles, beer…and a little root vegetable called endive.  The "Flemish" culture has some very old culinary traditions, one of which is braising these bitter leaves with butter into a delicious side dish.  Endive, including Belgian endive, is also known as Chicory plant, "witloof" or "white gold" in Belgium.  Other members of this plant family include daisy’s, and other edible leaves such as radicchio, curly escarole, and frisee.

Belgian endive is the young leaf shoot of the chicory plant, it is cultivated in the dark or underground to achieve it’s signature creamy white colour – without exposure to light, chlorophyll in the plant cannot become activated.  The natural growing season for endive is fall through winter, however now the vegetable is in high culinary demand and can be grown under the right conditions all year round.

Although the leaves of the chicory plant might be more recognizable in the grocery store, the root has an extended history of use in various food products.  Most famously, and because it is easily grown and hardy for storage, chicory became a staple coffee substitute during the Great Depression and Second World War.  The root is also used traditionally in baking preparations and in darker beers such as stout; in Belgium and Holland these brews are known as "witlofbiers".

Belgian endive is an excellent source minerals such as potassium, and is particularly high in folic acid and zinc. The chicory plant, as a member of the tanacetum plant family; has some additional unique health benefits.  The bitter leaves (endive etc.) make an excellent digestive tonic and may have benefit in the treatment and prevention of gallbladder disease.  These plants also commonly contain variable amounts of phytochemicals which are known to  treat inflammatory ailments such as migraine headaches and arthritis.

Belgian endive is extremely versatile in the kitchen, cooking or braising it mellows some of the bitter flavours; but I think it is a particular elegant and health conscious addition to the table as a crudité. Endive can be topped with lots of different flavours and foods; which will really wow a holiday crowd!

Bronwyn Hill, ND is a Naturopathic Doctor & food lover. She is currently in practice in Toronto's Forest Hill Neighbourhood, at Mahaya Forest Hill Integrative Health. She specializes in using food as medicine, acupuncture & traditional chinese medicine & botanicals; and has particular experience treating digestive concerns, women's health concerns including menopause, stress management, insomnia, healthy detoxification, and chronic respiratory conditions including asthma. She can be reached at . Follow her on Twitter @drbronwynnd.