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Word of the Day: lof (Brussels chicory)

No, this posting has nothing to do with yesterday’s discussion of praiseworthy LOF. Today’s LOF is the start of a completely new series. A short series on strange fruit and vegetables. Have you any suggestions? You can expect spuds which were given girlish names like Bintje and the mysterious history of sexy asparagus.


However, let’s start off with bitter sweet LOF. This vegetable is also known in the Netherlands as WITLOF or BRUSSELS LOF, and in Belgium as WITLOOF. Its Latin name is ‘Cichorium intybus var. foliosum’. The Brits and Ozzies know it as ‘Brussels chicory’ and Americans as ‘Belgian endive’. ‘Endive’ is a misleading name for ‘Cichorium endivia’ is a different species in the genus.

This vegetarian delicacy, called LOF, consists of smooth, creamy white leaves which taste slightly bitter and may be served raw or they may be stuffed, baked, boiled, cut and cooked in a milk sauce.

LOF thanks its name to the Dutch medieval word ‘loof’ (foliage – Old English ‘leaf’) which goes back to an Indo-European root meaning ‘to peel off’ or ‘to break off’.

Though its name suggests that it goes back to the early middle ages, WITLOF is a young vegetable, which is completely manmade. It was invented and cultivated by the main horticulturist of the Botanic Gardens in Brussels Mr Frans Breziers in the years 1850 and 1851. He discovered that darkness, warmth and humidity were essential for the cultivation of WITLOF. The leaves are white because they grow without sunlight. In 1867 the vegetable was sold for the first time on the market of Brussels.

The vegetable was so successful that many farmers in the surroundings of Brussels started to grow them. This new venture made many of them very rich. During the first World War many Brabander WITLOF farmers fled to northern France which is still the largest producer in the world. Belgium and (since 1970) the Netherlands are the other two producers of WITLOF. Belgians eat seven kilos of LOF per year on average and the Dutch and French over three kilos per year on average.

Are you a LOF-lover, then you’ll be delighted to learn that there is a witloofmuseum in Kampenhout in Belgium.

More information on WITLOF These are also the sources for this posting.