Under the title of "Chicory in Belgium," Consul Henry C. Morris, in Consular Report No. 169, page 157, gives some statistics concerning the exportation of chicory from that country, which should engage the attention of every one in this country who is interested in maintaining our food supply at a reasonable standard. The consul evidently looks on the increased demand for chicory in this country as commendable, while we are inclined to take the opposite view.
Chicory has rather a bad name among pharmacists because it occasionally masquerades as taraxacum. It has long been used as a cheap adulterant and substitute for coffee in England and on the continent of Europe, and the result is that one rarely gets in those places the delicious cup of coffee that he is accustomed to in the United States.
In England the substitution and admixture has been carried to such an extent that coffee has, to a large extent, given way to tea, which has become the popular beverage.
In the United States, on the contrary, coffee is the more popular of the two, because here it is the custom of many consumers to buy the coffee in an unground condition and either have it ground at once in their presence, or grind it at home as needed. Of course this does not apply to boarding houses and hotels, where cheaper grades are often employed, which means an admixture of chicory or some other cheap material.
It is safe to say that no consumer of coffee ever goes to his grocer and demands chicory, or a mixture of that substance and coffee. Chicory yields a black, astringent infusion, which is devoid the stimulating and aromatic properties that are a necessary part of coffee.
All the statements about chicory being a healthy drink, recommended by the medical profession and beneficial to those suffering from disorders of the stomach, are fairy tales invented by those commercially interested in the substitution of it for coffee.
The yearly chicory crop of Belgium amounts to about 350,000 tons, of which 4,000 tons are sent to the United States. The growth of the demand for this adulterant in this country may be seen by the value of the imports of it from Belgium for five years as follows:
The report of Consul Morris has already called forth some criticism in one of our leading magazines, but the newspapers, as a rule, have echoed a favorable sentiment under the false impression that chicory would benefit the poor. Owing to the adverse criticism of his report, the same consul has seen fit to send another communication on the same subject, entitled "Chicory as a Beverage." (Consular Report No. 176, page 139, May, 1895). In this report he defends his former remarks, and advocates its use as a beverage because of its harmlessness, and because it is used in England, France and Belgium, under legal restrictions.
We cannot see, however, that the weight of his argument is strengthened in the least. We cannot get legal restrictions in this country; popular sentiment is stronger to keep an objectionable article out, and on that we must depend.
Chicory belongs in company with prepared and roasted beet roots, rye bread, acorns and all the other coffee substitutes that are utterly devoid of the properties for which coffee is employed.
It would be an excellent substance for Congress to place a high duty upon, for it is not demanded by the consumer, and can only be sold under some other name, or in a mixture.