What is Endive?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Endive is a leafy green in the chicory family that can be eaten raw or cooked. It is native to India, but it is more widely cultivated in Europe and the United States, where it is a popular salad green. Many grocers carry endive, and it is often available year-round, thanks to its hardiness and ability to be grown in hothouses. It is also possible to grow the plant at home, if the gardener lives in a temperate climate and has access to a partially sunny area with loose, well-drained soil.

Belgian endive has a mild flavor and crunchy texture.
Belgian endive has a mild flavor and crunchy texture.

There are three main types of the plant: Belgian endive, curly endive, and escarole. Each looks and tastes quite different, and they can be used in different ways. Like all members of the chicory family, the green has a slightly bitter flavor, but the intensity of the bitterness varies depending on the cultivar of Cichorium endivia being grown and how it is handled.

Escarole, a type of endive.
Escarole, a type of endive.

Belgian endive, or white leaf endive, produces very tightly furled heads which look sort of like cigars, and it is made by harvesting the plant roots and all, cutting the growth off, and storing the roots in cool, dark conditions. The roots bud, producing a second growth of tightly packed white leaves with a very mild flavor and crispy texture. Some exotic cultivars will produce red to pink leaves.

Endive can be added to a main dish salad along with other veggies and grilled chicken breast.
Endive can be added to a main dish salad along with other veggies and grilled chicken breast.

Curly endive, also known as frisee, is the archnemesis of some salad lovers; like cilantro, it's a love it or hate it food. Frisee lovers prize the lacy texture and sharp taste. People who loathe this green complain that it's like eating bitter feathers, and they will meticulously remove it from salads and other dishes.

Escarole produces broad green leaves that are slightly curled. The leaves are tender, with a relatively mild flavor and a crisp texture.

Like many leafy greens, endive can turn quite bitter and woody if it is allowed to stay in the field too long. Young leaves are tender and flavorful, with a much more delicate flavor. Older ones can be more like cardboard in texture, and the bitterness overwhelms the other natural flavors of the green. When the plant has been allowed to progress to this stage, it can be salvaged through cooking; salting the leaves and rinsing them well in several soaks of cold water before cooking can sometimes draw out the bitterness.

Endive may be used alongside other greens in a tossed salad.
Endive may be used alongside other greens in a tossed salad.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I am definitely not a fan. I can't stand when I get the nasty little pieces in my beloved mixed green salad. It tastes like grass and nastiness. Coincidentally, I also hate cilantro? Interesting read.


@anon171394-- Cleaning endive and escarole is really similar.

They both have numerous leaves that grow outside of one another, similar to a lettuce. The easiest way to clean them is to snap off the leaves one by one starting from the outside and working your way in. And then you can rinse them under cold water.

If it looks like there is some soil on the leaves, especially towards the roots, soak them in some cold water which has vinegar in it for ten to fifteen minutes. This will remove the soil and kill any germs. Finally rinse with cold water.


how do i clean escarole?


If you have bitter endive, or any other vegetables that can turn bitter like eggplant, just leave it in cold salted water first. It really helps draw the bitterness out better. I leave it in salt water half an hour to an hour, then rinse and cook.


I generally include endive in my salad mix. I think it especially does well in salads that have a mix of greens and also some fruit in it. Putting some fruit, or some orange juice in the salad also takes away the bitterness of the endive.

I also use the leaves to serve sweet snacks, desserts or fruit to guests. They think that it looks very pretty.


Endive is great with butter, but I guess everything is! I sautee Belgian endive in butter, add half a lemon's juice, some sugar and salt and let it cook. It is absolutely delicious and a true Belgian recipe. I think most people would like this dish, even if they don't like endives.


Endive can make salad a lot more interesting and nutritious. While this article is right that not everyone likes the taste, it is definitely worth trying in a few dishes to see if you like it.

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