Endive is a biennial plant and part of the Asteraceae or dandelion family. Originating in the Mediterranean region centuries ago, though some pinpoint Egypt as its true birthplace, endive varieties have been prized for their texture and flavor, as well as medicinal qualities. Related to chicory and radicchio, endive has two dissimilar pronunciations—‘n-dive’ or ‘on-deev’—demarcating varieties. Belgian endive (sometimes called French endive), curly endive, and escarole are covered in this profile.
Most U.S. production of Belgian endive is in California, though the first stage of its growth can be cultivated in most regions. Escarole and curly endive are grown in several states seasonally, with California, Arizona, and Florida as leading suppliers.
References: New England Vegetable Management Guide, Oregon State University, Purdue University, Rutgers University New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, University of Florida/IFAS Extension.
TYPES, VARIETIES & CUTS
Though the terms escarole, endive, and chicory are often used interchangeably, there are distinct differences in both appearance and flavor. The usual pronunciation, ‘n-dive’ refers to curly endive and escarole while ‘on-deev’ generally refers to the Belgian or white type of endive.
Curly endive, also called frisée or curly chicory, is field-grown and has small, slender ‘frizzy’ or lacy-looking yellow-green leaves around a compact head, with a peppery flavor. Varieties include Frisan, Galia, Keystone, Marcant, President, Salad King, and Tosca. Escarole is also grown in the field and often called broad-leaf endive or Batavian endive; it has darker green, flat, smoother leaves around a loose yet balanced heart and can be less bitter than its siblings. Varieties include Broadleaf Batavian, Coral, Florida Deep Heart, Full Heart, Salanca, Sinco, and Twinkle. Belgian endive, also called witloof chicory, refers to the white or red crunchy oval-shaped shoots that grow out of stored chicory roots with a nutty somewhat mildly bitter taste. It is prized by chefs and gourmands as an elegant addition to meals and side dishes and is often referred to as ‘white gold’ by connoisseurs.
Types are classified by season with benefits related to its two-stage cultivation process: early season has a shorter growing cycle, mid- or ordinary varieties purportedly have better yields, while late varieties are hardier and more tolerant of storage. A few varieties include Flash, Roelof, Totem, and Zoom.
References: Oregon State University, Rutgers University, University of Florida/IFAS Extension, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USDA.
PESTS & DISEASE
Escarole and its lettuce siblings are vulnerable to a number of pests including harvester or fire ants, aphids (lettuce, peach, and plum), armyworms, beetles (including darkling and multiple flea types), bollworms, cabbage loopers, caterpillars, crickets, cutworms, grasshoppers, leafhoppers, leafminers, lygus (tarnished plant) bugs, slugs, snails, stink bugs, thrips, and whiteflies.
Mosaic viruses infect plants, which then become reservoirs of the disease, stunting growth. Cucumber, lettuce, and turnip mosaic virus are similar in nature, though the latter is more prevalent in escarole. Ironically, turnip mosaic virus was inadvertently transferred to some escarole varieties while breeders were building resistance to downy mildew. Symptoms include slowed development, lack of coloring (chlorosis), tears and crimping in leaves, and eventually plant death.
Beet western yellows virus has an impact in California, Arizona, and Florida. It causes a pronounced chlorosis of the outer leaves of lettuce and escarole. Other diseases of note include bacterial blight, bottom rot, damping off, downy or powdery mildew, Fusarium, grey or white mold, soft rot, tip burn, wilt, and yellowing.
References: Rutgers University, University of Arizona, University of Florida/IFAS Extension, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USDA.