European expats, consumers looking for gluten free appetizers, and restaurateurs are helping demand for Belgian endives to grow. Attention has been brought onto the vegetable thanks to TV shows and chefs that are presenting it in different ways. In Europe, many people cook Belgian endives during the winter time, but in the US, demand is spread more evenly throughout the year.
“Consumption of Belgian endives tends to peak in the winter,” said Mike Reed of California Endive Farms. “However, in the US, consumers have fashioned more uses for them, including in salads or as an appetizer for example. It’s been promoted as a great alternative to crackers and other products containing gluten, and there is also more interest in ‘exotic’ tastes in general.”
Demand has grown such that California Endive Farms, who are the only commercial endive producer in the country, has had to expand their operations in order to keep up. “Demand has been growing strongly, both in conventional and organic,” Reed observed. “Over the last few years, we have expanded our growing and storage areas, and now they need to be expanded again. Retailers are looking to capitalize on this growth too with more pre-packaging options for consumers.”
Rich Collins, President of California Endive Farms
Growing method provides year-round supply
Belgian endives are grown in a very particular way to achieve the preferred color as well as year-round supply. The method has been used extensively in Europe and California Endive Farms follows a similar system.
Firstly the seeds, which are in fact chicory seeds, are sown into the fields in late spring to early summer. Once they grow for several months, the tops are cut off in the fall and the roots are harvested and stored in 28 degree temperatures and “exposed to blowing snow and wind,” as Reed explained. This puts the root to sleep until the time comes to expose the root to Spring-like conditions where it will render a second growth providing the endive, according to production requirements.
“We produce a crop every week,” Reed said. “We also grow at different elevations and in different fields across southern Oregon and Central California, to ensure an even broader span of availability. After the roots are harvested and stored, when ready, we put them in a growing tray with a water solution, and expose them to spring like conditions – temperatures in the 50s along with high humidity. After three weeks, the endive heads have fully grown out of the root and are ready to be harvested and packaged. All this is done in complete darkness in order to maintain the white color and avoid any additional bitterness.”
California Endive Farms have recently begun producing a new type of endive, called “Coraline”. “It’s a cross between a Belgian endive and a Frisee, with delicate leaves and a uniquely sweet taste,” Reed says. “We are now in our second year of production and it has been well received. Currently only available to foodservice, chefs are showing great interest in it.”
Yields affected by 2017 summer
The nature of Belgian endive production is such that when growing conditions are affected in any way, the after-effects won’t start impacting until the following year. This is because the actual endive production occurs only after the roots are harvested and stored. This year, Reed noted that endive yields are lower, and it can be traced back almost a year to the summer of 2017.
“The previous summer was very hot, particularly around Labor Day when we experienced highs of 115 degrees,” he said. “Endives require a good amount of chill hours to send the energy in the chicory leaves down into the roots. Being close to harvest, this heat event caused the roots to be a little less hardy than usual so yields have been slightly off recently. However, we are keeping up with the growing demand of America’s appetite for this unique savory lettuce.”
For more information:
California Endive Farms
Tel: +1 (707) 374-2111
Publication date: 5/25/2018
Author: Dennis M. Rettke