BELGIAN ENDIVE
CARE: Refrigerate at 38 degrees. Do not mist. Keep endive away from light as much as possible.
NUTRITIONAL VALUE: Belgian endive is a good source of fiber, iron and potassium.
AVAILABILITY: Year-round

(May 1) Belgian endive is one of three major endive varieties, also including curly endive and escarole. It is often confused with chicory, its close relative. Belgian endive is unique because it is grown in darkness using a labor-intensive technique called blanching, according to epicurious.com. The heads are made of tightly compact cream- to yellow-colored leaves with a slightly bitter taste. Light turns the leaves green and bitter, which is why it is grown in darkness and why you should be careful not to keep endive under display lights for too long. Also, advise customers to store endive wrapped in a paper towel in plastic.

Endive, like kale, can be added to salads or cooked slightly. Its taste is mildly bitter, somewhat like arugula, and consumers may have tasted it in Chinese stir-fry.

Belgian endive has increased in popularity in the past 15 years, says Robert Morse, department head for Davalan Sales, representing Direct Ethnic Marketers Inc. in Los Angeles. Much of this increase is because product is now grown domestically in California by growers who also merchandise their product, Morse says. One California grower has gone out to restaurants, hotels, wine tastings and retail stores to do demonstrations of the leafy vegetable, Morse says. He suggests in-store sampling of raw and cooked Belgian endive, with different flavors to inspire different uses. Try endive leaves topped with various dressings, small cups of mixed salad including endive or stir-fry with Belgian endive.

At Snyders IGA, a single store in Edmond, Okla., Belgian endive is displayed in a black wicker basket with special signage and point-of-purchase materials explaining how to use the product, says Larry Alsup, produce manager and supervisor. He displays it near asparagus, artichokes and eggplant because they can all be used in stir-fry, he says. The store normally sells endive for $6.99 a head and sells about two cases a week, Alsup says. Although sales are fairly steady throughout the year, they often pick up slightly around Chinese New Year.

At Ream’s Food Store in Salt Lake City, one of 11 stores, Belgian endive is displayed with other specialties like Italian eggplant and grape tomatoes, and near mushrooms and alfalfa sprouts, where people are looking for other salad toppings, says Rick Williams, produce supervisor. He says the store sometimes displays recipes or idea cards that mostly focus on enhancing salads or making different types of salads. People also use the item on hors d’oeuvres trays and in soups, he says.

“The people who do want it will ask for it, and if you don’t have it … they’ll tell you to bring it back in,” he says. Ream’s sells 8-12 pounds of Belgian endive each week at $1.99 a pound, Williams says.

At Atlantic Food Mart, a single store in Reading, Mass., endive is displayed in the salad case with bagged salad, baby spinach, romaine hearts and sprouts, says Del Marion, produce director.

Marion displays it in a single or double row near the alfalfa sprouts. The single-file rows keep the smallest amount of the vegetable exposed to light, and the rounded heads stand out next to alfalfa sprouts, he says. Only about eight heads are displayed at a time to keep them protected from the light, he says.

Belgian endive’s popularity may vary from place to place. In California, the vegetable has grown so popular that it’s hardly a specialty anymore, says Ronald Zamora, general manager of Cooseman’s Miami Inc., Miami. He says education materials aren’t as necessary as they were in the past because people have become familiar with the product and its uses.