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WELCOME, CORALINE

Meet the world’s newest vegetable.

WRITTEN BY AMBER K. STOTT
PHOTOS BY JOAN CUSICK

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There’s a new vegetable in the world — and it’s being grown right here in Northern California, exclusively for the United States market. The veggie, developed in Europe, already is on plates in local Sacramento restaurants. If you’ve ever eaten Belgian endive, you’ll quickly recognize the world’s newest vegetable, coraline, which also is a member of the chicory family.

A sweeter breed

Coraline looks quite similar to Belgian endive, with its tight-leaved body bundled in a single head. The difference: Coraline boasts frilly leaf tips and a soft, yellow hue, making for a prettier vegetable. It’s also less bitter and slightly sweeter than endive.

That sweeter flavor is the reason coraline was developed, according to Khristopher Carlson, a sales representative for Vilmorin North America, the European company that invented coraline. Carlson says that endive has lost its cool factor in Europe, where the vegetable is most commonly consumed.

“The chicory family has a bad rap for being bitter,” Carlson says. “Bringing coraline to the market brings something exciting and new to the dinner table.”

While growers anticipate the sales of coraline to increase as the vegetable catches on, it still is far less popular than endive. At California Endive, coraline makes up only 5 percent of overall production.

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The root of invention

The non-GMO plant was first rooted by California Endive Farms, the United States’ exclusive grower, last May for its test year. It hit stores and restaurants recently. Locally, Corti Brothers, Esquire Grill, Mulvaney’s B&L, Paragary’s, and The Waterboy, all in Sacramento, are selling or cooking with coraline. In Europe, consumers also are enjoying the vegetable in France, Belgium, and Switzerland.

The breeding team at Vilmorin began working on crosses for what is now coraline back in 1993. They used traditional breeding methods to cross certain members of the chicory plant family. It looks like a cross between Belgian endive and frisée. 

“Breeding vegetables is something that takes patience and dedication,” Carlson points out. “Many vegetables can take five to 15 years (or more) to develop a new product. To create a new category of vegetable, such as coraline, can take even longer.”

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At California Endive Farms, the plant takes 120 days to get from ground to table. Like endive, the coraline root is grown outside in the ground. Once it begins to shoot leafy greens, the leaves are chopped off and discarded, while the treasured root is taken to an indoor cooling facility, where it is kept at an icy temperature as it waits to be planted again.

During the root’s second planting, it is tucked into trays that are kept in a dark, humid indoor warehouse that mimics a cave. As it thaws and receives water, leaves burst from the root, producing the pretty, petite, edible part of the coraline plant.

Once packed and ready to be eaten, coraline, like endive, has a three-week shelf life. It is most commonly eaten in salads. The pretty leaves also can be used as edible serving boats for hors d’oeuvres.

Whatever use one finds for coraline, Northern California has bragging rights for bringing the world’s newest vegetable to the United States. That’s delicious news!

Amber K. Stott is founder and chief food genius of the nonprofit Food Literacy Center, inspiring youths to eat their veggies. She’s a freelance food writer and has been named a Food Revolution Hero by the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, one of Food Tank’s 20 Innovators Protecting the Planet, and a TEDxSacramento Changemaker Fellow.

RESOURCES

Where to find coraline

Corti Brothers
5810 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento
916-736-3800 • Cortibrothers.com

Esquire Grill
1213 K St., Sacramento
916-448-8900 • Esquiregrill.com

Mulvaney’s B&L
1215 19th St., Sacramento
916-441-6022 • Mulvaneysbl.com

Paragary’s
1401 28th St., Sacramento
916-457-5737 • Paragarysmidtown.com

The Waterboy
2000 Capitol Ave., Sacramento
916-498-9891 • Waterboyrestaurant.com

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