Have you been experimenting with different recipes, new flavors, and fresh vegetables in your home kitchen?
You aren’t the only one!
One of the beautiful things about living in a world with a global economy and the widest accessible range of fresh produce that people have ever seen is that there are a lot of fresh vegetables out there you might have never had or even heard of before.
But that also means that more and more recipes are calling for ingredients that are more niche or harder to find in the average local grocery store.
Radicchio is one of those vegetables. Delicious and well worth getting if you can, plenty of home chefs have found themselves looking for a replacement vegetable that works as well in different dishes.
Here's what you need to know about radicchio and the best substitutes for this vegetable.
What Is Radicchio?
Radicchio is one of the many vegetables in the chicory family, and you might also see radicchio called Italian chicory in some recipes and even grocery stores.
It’s, on the most basic level, a leafy green vegetable and used as a leafy green in most dishes. However, unlike most other leafy greens, radicchio actually isn’t green. It’s the same red-purple and white hues as red cabbage, some kinds of Swiss chard, and other non-green greens.
Like other chicory-family vegetables, radicchio is crunchy, crisp, slightly spicy, and bitter. When cooked, all of those flavors are mellow and the bitterness is greatly reduced.
How Do You Use Radicchio In Your Kitchen?
Radicchio is often used for two main reasons, because of the brilliant color, and to provide a taste and texture contrast with other ingredients in a dish. It's used both raw and cooked. Raw is mostly used in chopped salads, where the spicy bite and bitterness can be easily balanced with sweeter vegetables and dressings.
In soups and other cooked preparations, it's a much more mild flavor, but should still retain some crunch and color. That makes radicchio a fantastic addition to any veggie-heavy soup, and a good option in any recipe that calls for a hearty green like kale or Swiss chard.
If you want to start experimenting, you can substitute a little radicchio for some of the lettuce in this delicious Greek Salad recipe.
The Best Radicchio Substitutes For Your Home Kitchen
Choosing the right substitute for vegetables can be both simple because there are so many options, and difficult because choosing a good flavor match for your tastes and the recipe you're making can be complicated.
Here are some of the best Radicchio substitutes you can use for your home cooking.
Curly endive is a good option if you’re looking for a visually distinct and taste similar substitute. The curly rich green leaves might not be purple, but they still stand out from other greens in salads and soups.
However, unlike radicchio, there is no spice or bitterness to a curly endive leaf. That can actually be a good thing for people with a lower spice tolerance or who don’t like bitterness in their foods.
This option will still give you variety in your greens, which is important for salads and vegetable-heavy soups, but not as much variety as radicchio provides.
Belgian Endives aren’t purple like Radicchio, but they stand out just as much with their pale yellow color. They are also safe to eat raw, and have a similar fresh peppery taste, which also mellows like radicchio when cooked.
Overall, Belgian Endive is a good substitute in basically all recipes that call for radicchio.
Unfortunately, endives aren’t as popular in the US yet, so it might not be that much easier to find endives than it would be to find radicchio. This substitute really is only available to people who have a large grocery store with an extensive produce section.
Arugula is another good substitute, and actually a good option if you’re working your way up to adding radicchio in your diet. It’s got a similar peppery and slightly bitter flavor, but both are much milder than arugula.
A lot of people think that arugula is the more pleasant of the two, which is one reason that arugula is much more popular in grocery stores, and also why this option is easier to find.
There are a lot of different varieties of arugula, but all of them are nutrient-packed and low-calorie. So, if you're looking to add radicchio to your diet for nutritional reasons, arugula is a good option.
Watercress is starting to be a more common produce item in grocery stores, but if you choose this radicchio substitute you should look for the fresh kind, with the roots still attached and wet on the plant.
That’s important because watercress can turn quickly after it’s been harvested.
However, one of the reasons it’s a good substitute for radicchio can also make it unpleasant for some people. It’s got a significant bitter flavor, though fresher watercress is less bitter and is more crisp.
It’s also got a hefty dose of vitamin k, adding significant nutritional benefits.
Radishes are a little bit of an add radicchio replacement, despite the name similarities. However, radishes bring the same spicy flavor that radicchio does, and generally doesn’t have the same bitterness as radicchio vegetables.
It’s also crisp and crunchy but needs to be cut small or shredded to be a good replacement. It can also add more flavor than you might expect from radicchio when you use radishes, especially if the meal sits in the fridge as leftovers for more than a day or two.
Romaine lettuce might seem like a simple substitution, but it’s also a good one. It’s one of the most common greens you can find in the store, and its mild flavor is more familiar and pleasant for a lot of people.
It can be cooked but will generally have more of a neutral watery green taste than radicchio.
It’s versatile and effective, and easy to work with. So even novice cooks can safely use and enjoy this ingredient.
If you are looking for a vegetable that has largely the same color and texture as radicchio, red cabbage is a good option. In fact, you might have gotten a radicchio when you thought it was a red cabbage, or a red cabbage when you’re reading for a radicchio if you happen to have a grocery store that carries both.
However, the flavor match isn’t nearly as good. Red cabbage provides a completely different flavor, and is only slightly peppery and sweet, where radicchio is spicy and bitter.
If you’re using acids in your dish, you might also notice that your red cabbage turns blue. That’s because it’s a pH indicator.
French Endive or Frisée
If you are looking for a leafy green that can substitute radicchio with a similar bitter flavor, but without the spicy edge, French Endive is a good option. It’s got a similar curly appearance to curly endive, but a slightly different flavor, both milder and more bitter.
However, it's not as good for the aesthetic appeal of your dish, or for people who love the spiciness of radicchio.
Mustard greens are a much easier to find substitute. Most grocery stores carry them now, and they offer a much more comparable taste to radicchio than most leafy greens.
However, you need to use more of them to get the same bulk in your dish, but you might get too much bitterness if you just add mustard greens. Adding more of the other vegetables in your dish can help keep the recipe as a whole more balanced.
Turnip greens are a bit milder than mustard greens but offer the same bitter taste, and a texture a bit closer to spinach. They are significantly less bitter than the next substitute though, dandelion greens.
If you’re looking for a milder but still similar finish to radicchio, turnip greens are a good option.
Turnip greens are also a good low-calorie option to add to almost any low-calorie dinner that calls for sauteed or soup greens. Try adding them to any of our low-calorie dinner ideas for home cooking!
Dandelion greens are probably the most bitter of the available radicchio substitutes. However, they are also incredibly nutritious.
Because of how bitter these greens are, you might want to mix them with another radicchio substitute if you want to get the same flavor without overpowering bitterness.
Escarole is another substitute that is widely available, easy to find and tends to be available all year round. It is not as bitter but it does have a similar spiciness.
However, aesthetically, escarole looks a little ragged and shredded, it’s not typically as attractive an ingredient and works best when it’s chopped smaller.
Red Leaf Lettuce
While romaine lettuce might be the best lettuce substitute from a taste perspective, red leaf lettuce is a better choice if you want the appearance of radicchio.
Its bright purple-red tops stand out, and it does have a slight bitterness similar to radicchio. For salads and minimally cooked soups, this is a top choice.
Kale, or even better, purple kale, are another good option. There’s no spice in most kale varieties, but the bitterness is there. Plus, the thicker, chewier, firmer leaves make kale a quality substitute for radicchio.
It’s also much easier to find, more familiar than watercress, and similarly loaded with important vitamins and minerals. Looking for more meal prep ideas? Try our easy chicken meal prep recipes!