Chicory (Cichorium intybus) is a herbaceous, perennial plant, more or less one meter tall, that belongs to the Asteraceae family.
It is a plant originating in the sub-Mediterranean region, although it is present in both Central Europe and America. It grows by the side of roads and fields and in dry, calcareous terrain. It blooms between May and September, the flowers are a very colorful blue and turn their heads to the sun, like sunflowers.
Chicory was already known and cultivated by the ancient Egyptians, more than 3000 years ago, who used it against liver diseases.
The main producing areas are France, Belgium, Germany and Spain. Currently, several varieties are cultivated that are quite different in appearance from the wild plant, and which are used for consumption as a vegetable, to produce coffee substitutes and for the extraction of inulin. The root of the Sativum variety contains up to 16% inulin. Chicory root extract is obtained by a hot water diffusion process and contains more than 95% inulin.
Inulin is an energy reserve carbohydrate present in the roots, tubers and rhizomes of more than 36,000 plant species. It is composed of linear chains of fructose, therefore it is a fructan.
Because of their chemical configuration, fructans cannot be hydrolyzed by the digestive systems of humans and many animals, so they pass through most of the digestive tract practically unchanged. When inulin reaches the large intestine, it serves as food for bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, which metabolize it, producing short-chain fatty acids, especially butyric acid.
This results in an increase in the number of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria (beneficial species) in the colon and a decrease in the number of harmful bacteria, such as E. coli or Clostridium spp. On the other hand, the production of short-chain fatty acids strengthens the immune system, increases the absorption of minerals and fats and boosts the endogenous production of vitamins by the gut flora.
When added to pet food, inulin:
- Encourages the growth of beneficial microorganisms (lactobacilli and bifidobacteria) in the gut
- Improves digestion
- Helps cats and dogs that have difficulty in digesting fats
- Improves the stool quality, relieving diarrhea and constipation
- Eases the symptoms of chronic inflammatory diseases
- Promotes a normal body weight
- Reduces the risk of diabetes