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Coffee with chicory is a blend of ordinary coffee beans mixed with the dried and ground root of certain varieties of the chicory plant. Its taste tends toward the bitter, most closely resembling certain very dark roasts of coffee bean. This beverage has come to be associated with the city of New Orleans and with Cajun and, to a lesser extent, Southern cooking more generally. This blend may have health benefits for some coffee drinkers, as it is effectively a naturally low-caffeine coffee.
Chicory has been used to provide flavor in cooking for many centuries, especially in the Mediterranean. It has been added to coffee periodically when supplies of coffee were scarce and expensive. Chicory root is quite common and easy to cultivate, although it does not produce the same stimulant effect as coffee since it lacks caffeine. During the Napoleonic era, when France was cut off from much global trade by the British fleet, mixing coffee with chicory was widely used as a way to make small supplies of coffee last longer.
The American Civil War led to a great increase in the consumption of coffee with chicory. The Union enjoyed naval dominance throughout the war and was able to effectively blockade the major ports of the Confederacy. This blockade meant that the Confederacy was largely cut off from supplies of coffee and was forced to turn to local substitutes to stretch or replace scarce and expensive stocks. Accounts of soldiers from the Civil War often describe drinking coffee with chicory, and the practice was just as common in areas away from the fighting.
Inhabitants of New Orleans, who had inherited something of the French obsession with cafes, drank a great deal of coffee in the years before the Civil War, a practice that was made easier and less expensive by the city’s role as a major port. The outbreak of hostilities did not induce the residents of New Orleans to give up coffee, but it did force them to switch to coffee with chicory and sometimes to chicory with a hint of coffee. This practice led many people to develop a taste for the blend, and it has remained popular to the present day. The Café du Mond in New Orleans remains famous for its chicory and coffee blend.
Mixing coffee and chicory produces a drink that provides a robust coffee flavor but with a lower level of caffeine. Although the mixture was originally a product of necessity, the reduced level of caffeine has led some to consider it a useful replacement for full-strength coffee for people who wish to limit their caffeine intake. Most people, however, consume coffee with chicory for its robust flavor and not for its health benefits.
There's a brand of coffee my mom used to drink that had chicory in it. It's what I grew up on. As a result, I'm used to a darker brew of coffee.
In the South, you still see coffee brands produced in Louisiana that include chicory in the blend. I've never cooked with it, though. I don't mind a slightly bitter coffee, but I don't think I'd like the bitter in my food.
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