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), zeaxanthin, vitamin-K and several other vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Binomially, this beautiful leafy vegetable belongs to the Asteraceae or daisy family; in the genus, Cichorium.
Scientific name: Cichorium intybus L.
|Radicchio-Note for wine-red color leaves
with prominent white veins.
Photo courtesy: ilovebutter
Radicchio is a perennial, small cabbage-like plant. It prefers cold 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 result 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 generally grown by the name of Veneto provincial cities. Chioggia variety has compact, beet-red, bitter leaves. Treviso variety feature long, conical, compactly arranged, less-pungent leaves. Radicchio variegate di Castelfranco is a hybrid between radicchio and endive (Cichorium endiva). Castelfranco has loose, mild flavor leaves. Verona is another non-heading type, and has red, open leaves with prominent white veins as in cabbage.
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 zeaxanthin, and lutein. 100 grams leaves provide 8832 µg of these pigments. Zeaxanthin is a xanthophyll category of flavonoid carotenoid (yellow pigment) which concentrates mainly in the central part of the 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 osteoblastic (bone formation and strengthening) activity. Further, sufficient vitamin-K levels in the diet help limiting neuronal damage in the brain. It thus has an established role in the treatment of patients who have Alzheimer's disease.
Further, it is also a modest source 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.
At its natural habitat, radicchio is a cool-season vegetable. Although grown in some parts of USA, a majority of it imported from the Mediterranean, especially from Italy. Some of its varieties grown locally and marketed year around in the California state.
If you grow one in the 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 compact round 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 midribs. 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 in a refrigerator set at a temperature below 8 °C with a relative humidity of around 90% for up to 2-3 weeks.
Radicchio is used mainly as a leafy salad vegetable. Raw leaves have been sharp, pungent in flavor. Exposure to more bright 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.
Radicchio risotto and pasta are popular winter recipes in the Northern Italian region.
Although it belongs to the chicory family vegetables, radicchio has no caffeine content in its leaves, and therefore, can be safe for consumption. (Medical disclaimer).
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