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Radicchio nutrition facts

Radicchio is a quick growing Mediterranean red-colored leafy vegetable. It actually is one of the varieties of leaf-chicory employed in salads in Veneto region of Italy for centuries. Its wine-red succulent, bitter flavored leaves hold several unique compounds like lactucopicrin (intybin), zea-xanthin, vitamin-K and several other vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Binomially, this beautiful leafy vegetable belongs to the Asteracae or daisy family; in the genus, Cichorium.

Scientific name: Cichorium intybus L.

Radicchio-Note for winey-red color leaves with prominent white veins.
Photo courtesy: ilovebutter

Radicchio is a perennial, small cabbage like plant. It prefers cool weather, supplanted with well draining, fertile, moisture rich soil. The crop is ready to harvest after about 75-90 days after seedling. Hot weather and inadequate watering might results in small, dense, and bolting heads. Well-grown radicchio features compact wine-red color leaves with prominent white veins, about the size of a romaine lettuce.

Different cultivars of radicchio are grown generally by the name of Veneto provincial cities. Chioggia variety has compact, beet-red, bitter leaves. Treviso variety has been less pungent, long, conical, compactly arranged leaves. Radicchio variegate di Castlefranco is a hybrid between radicchio and endive (Cichorium endiva). Castlefranco has loose, mild flavor leaves. Verona is another non-heading type, and has red color, open leaves with broad white veins as in cabbage.

Health benefits of Radicchio

  • Radicchio, like other chicory class of vegetables, is very low in calories. 100 g fresh leaves carry just 23 calories.

  • The bitter principle in the radicchio is lactucopicrin (intybin), a sesquiterpene lactone. Lactucopicrin is a potent anti-malarial agent and has a sedative and analgesic (painkiller) effect.

  • Its leaves are an excellent source of phenolic flavonoid antioxidants such as zea-xanthin, and lutein. 100 grams leaves provide 8832 µg of these pigments. Zea-xanthin is a xanthophyll category of flavonoid carotenoid (yellow pigment) which concentrates mainly in the central part of retina in humans. Together with lutein, it helps protect eyes from age-related macular disease (ARMD) by filtering harmful ultra-violet rays.

  • Fresh leaves hold moderate amounts of essential B-complex groups of vitamins such as folic acid, pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), pyridoxine (vitamin B6) and thiamin (vitamin B1), niacin (B3). These vitamins are essential in the sense that human body requires them from external sources to replenish and required for fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism.

  • Fresh radicchio is one of the excellent sources of vitamin K. 100 g provides about 255.2 µg or 212% of daily-recommended values. Vitamin K has a potential role in bone health by promoting osteotrophic (bone formation and strengthening) activity. Further, adequate vitamin-K levels in the diet help limiting neuronal damage in the brain. It thus, has established role in the treatment of patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

  • Further, it is also a moderate sources of minerals like manganese, copper, iron, zinc, and potassium. Manganese is used as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Potassium is an important intracellular electrolyte helps counter the hypertension effects of sodium.

Selection and storage

At its natural habitat, radicchio is a cool-season vegetable. Although grown in some parts of USA, a majority of it is imported from the Mediterranean, especially from Italy. Some of its varieties grown locally and marketed year around in the California state.

If you grow in your home garden, ensure its edible head is blanched appropriately before harvesting (as in endives). In some parts, forced second growth (heads) are harvested, while its green, bitter, first heads discarded. To harvest, cut its round compact head off the root and trim away all its outer copper-green leaves, just as in cabbage.

In the markets select fresh, compact, bright wine-red colored heads with prominent mid-ribs. Closely look for cracks, spots, or mechanical bruising on the leaves. Treviso and Chioggia should have tight, compact leaves, whereas Verona type features open, loose leaves.

At home, store inside a refrigerator set at temperature below 8 °C with relative humidity of around 90% for upto 2-3 weeks.

Preparation and serving methods

Radicchio is used mainly as leafy salad vegetable. Raw leaves have been sharp, pungent in flavor. Exposure to more intense daylight makes its leaves bitter, which is somewhat mellowed once cooked.

To prepare, trim its outer leaves as you do it in cabbage. Wash the head in cool running water. Cut it into quarters, wedges, and use in cooking.

Here are some serving tips:

  • Radicchio is a favorite winter-season salad vegetable in Southern Europe. Raw leaves are eaten in Italy in salads. In the USA, however, lightly stewed leaves are preferred.

  • Its chunks are grilled gently with added olive oil, artichoke hearts, and beans in a delicious radicchio salad.

  • Radicchio risotto and pasta are popular winter recipes in the Northern Italian region.

Safety profile

Eventhough it belongs to chicory family vegetables, radicchio has no caffeine content in its leaves, and therefore, can be safe for consumption. (Medical disclaimer).

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Further Reading:

1. USDA National Nutrient Database.

2. Stanford School of Medicine Cancer information Page-Nutrition to Reduce Cancer Risk.

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