Perhaps you’ve been to a fancy Italian restaurant and heard the waiter reciting the specials and when he gets to the salad, one of the ingredients he mentions is radicchio. Radicchio, pronounced, “Rah-DEEK-ee-oh”, is a magenta-colored leafy Italian vegetable with a ton of flavor and health benefits.
Radicchio belongs to the same family as dandelions and other vegetables in the chicory family, including Belgian endive. Radicchio looks a lot like red cabbage, but it has its own remarkable bitter-spicy flavor. Radicchio’s uniquely bitter flavor makes it a great addition to salads, but it also is deliciously mellow when grilled or sautéed.
There are several different varieties of radicchio, but Chioggia is the variety you see most often in the grocery store. It usually comes in a small round head, much like a head of cabbage. Radicchio is mostly grown in the Mediterranean, but in the U.S., radicchio is also grown in California.
Like many leafy vegetables, radicchio is high in vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin K which helps with blood clotting. Radicchio also contains vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, and a little bit of iron.
Radicchio has also been used in the past for wound healing, treating diarrhea, heart health, and maintaining blood sugar.
Like many brightly colored vegetables, radicchio is known for being high in antioxidants and protecting your body from damaging free radicals. Free radicals, which can come from many things in the environment, can damage the DNA in cells and lead to diseases such as cancer, heart disease, inflammation, and even dementia.
The deep pinkish purple of the radicchio leaves contains a powerful antioxidant called anthocyanin. Dark red grapes, cherries, blueberries and other blue, purple, or red fruits and vegetables also contain this antioxidant.
In fact, anthocyanins are so powerful, that they have potential pharmaceutical ingredients for medication. This study found these antioxidants effective at fighting a type of liver cancer. Other studies have shown the antioxidants in radicchio protect red blood cells. Anthocyanins also protect the skin from aging and help prevent cognitive decline in the elderly. In short, these antioxidants are the perfect anti-aging, preventative medicine.
Let’s take a look at some of the other incredible health benefits of radicchio:
- Cancer-Fighting—The high levels of antioxidants in radicchio help fight free radical damage. Free radicals damage cells’ DNA. Cells with damaged DNA often can reproduce into cancer cells. Radicchio’s ability to protect cell DNA, helps the body to create new, healthy cells and prevent cancer and metastasis.
- Healthier Heart and Blood Vessels—Inflammation is one of the primary causes of heart disease. When inflammation levels are high, the body sends out cholesterol to coat the blood vessels and the heart to protect from damage. When cholesterol and inflammation levels are high, risk levels for strokes and heart attacks go way up. Radicchio’s antioxidants help to lower inflammation and fight high cholesterol, protecting the heart, brain and the blood vessels.
- Diabetes Control—Radicchio contains a type of fiber that is called ‘inulin’. This fiber can help control blood sugar levels and keep them stable—something that is important for those with diabetes. Radicchio also contains caffeic acid and choric acid that can increase glucose uptake in the muscle cells where it will be utilized, rather than leaving the glucose in the bloodstream where it can cause damage. This substance can also stimulate the pancreatic cells to secrete more insulin, further helping to control blood sugar for diabetics.
- Weight Loss—The fiber and antioxidants in radicchio can help improve digestion—preventing constipation, bloating and other GI inflammation. A diet high in colorful vegetables helps you feel full, and is known to help with weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight.
- Smooth Healthy Skin—Radicchio’s high levels of vitamin A, and B-complex vitamins help to fight wrinkles, brighten up the skin and strengthen the hair and nails. B vitamins are especially important for energy and detoxification, as well as fighting inflammation, redness, and dry skin. And the high concentration of vitamin K helps keep skin smooth, glowing, and free of rashes, eczema, and other skin disorders.
- Anti-parasitic—Compounds in radicchio can help fight off certain GI parasitic infections. One study showed its power in fighting GI disease in livestock and another study showed its effectiveness against roundworm in pigs.
Want to try some radicchio? Try tearing up some leaves in a salad for some color and flavor interest. It pairs well with blue cheese topping, and arugula. Or if the bitterness is too much, roasting radicchio on the grill will bring out a smooth nutty flavor, most anyone would enjoy.
Try this recipe from Bon Appetit magazine.
- 2 large heads of radicchio, halved through core end. Cut each half into 3 wedges with some core still attached to hold the leaves together.
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 TBSP chopped fresh thyme
- Balsamic vinegar (for drizzling)
- Preheat grill to 400-450°F. Rinse radicchio wedges in cold water; gently shake off excess water (do not dry completely). Place radicchio in large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with thyme, salt, and pepper; toss to coat.
- Arrange radicchio wedges, 1 cut side up, on grill. Roast until wilted, about 12 minutes. Turn over and roast until tender, about 8 minutes longer.
- Arrange radicchio on platter, drizzle with balsamic vinegar, fresh thyme, salt and pepper, and serve.