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Witlof: New Leafy Vegetable

Chander Mohan
Chander Mohan

If you are looking for an unusual vegetable this is the one for you. The witlof is not a root vegetable but is a leaf that is grown underground. It can be used for salads and also cooked, baked, stewed and  caramelized.  It can also be used in puddings .  Another way to utilise this vegetable is to put savoury fillings in the small boat shaped leaves and use as hors d’oeuvres.

Witlof is a Flemish name for white leaf and the story goes that it was discovered accidentally in the 1800’s in Belgium, when someone stored some chicory roots in the dark and discovered they had grown these white leaves.

It is grown for most of the year in Australia but is not as well known as some other vegetables.

Witlof contains Vitamins B and C and is a good source of folic acid.


When buying witlof, go for the fresh and tightly packed leaves and make sure not to expose to light as it will turn to dark colour and become bitter in taste. If you store witlof in the fridge wrap it in brown paper to preserve the freshness and colour.

Now is the time for us all to try something new at your local green grocer! Try Witlof.

Witloof is a Dutch name that translates as white leaf. The name of this vegetable can be confusing. In New Zealand it is called either witloof or chicory. However, the British call it chicory and the French call it endive or Belgium endive. There is also a type of lettuce that the French call chicory and is known as endive in Britain and New Zealand. Witloof has a slightly bitter and nutty flavour. The roots in some strains can be used as a coffee substitute.

witlof is a staple vegetable in Europe, where France is the largest producer. However, according to witlof grower Fanie van der Merwe, the vegetable is slowly but surely gaining popularity in South Africa too. Four years ago, he set out to cultivate witlof on his 2,000 ha farm Bronaar just outside of Ceres in the Western Cape. His main focus on the farm was apples, pears, potatoes and onions, and witlof was initially brought in to diversify his business.

Witlof, also known as Belgian endive, is a notoriously difficult vegetable to grow. However, Koue Bokkeveld grower Fanie van der Merwe has mastered the art, producing 1 ton of witlof every week. Jeandré du Preez visited him on his family farm, Bronaar.

The technique for growing witlof, or Belgian endive, was accidentally discovered in the 1850s by an employee at the Botanical Gardens of Brussels in Saint-Josse-ten-Noode, Belgium. The man stored some chicory roots in a cellar, and when he saw them again, many days later, noticed that they had white leaves. Trying them out, he found that they had a good taste.

Producing witlof soon became a major industry in western Europe. The common name is from the Dutch ‘wit loof’, meaning ‘white leaf’. The smooth, creamy white leaves may be served stuffed, baked, boiled, cut or cooked in a milk sauce, or simply raw in a salad. The whiter the leaf, the less bitter the taste.

“Since then, the witlof operation has grown steadily, and today we employ 10 ladies who work in the pack-house and hydroponic facility and tend to the roots,” says Fanie. “We supply 1 ton of witlof a week to supermarket chains across the country.”

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