Escarole vs. Endive: Don’t Mix Up These Leafy Greens!

This post may contain affiliate links and we may earn a commission, but it won’t affect our product choices.

Table of Contents

Escarole and Endive are both members of the Chicory family, but they look quite different. Escarole has broad, ruffled leaves that are paler green near the center.

Think of it as lettuce’s slightly fancier, mildly bitter cousin. Curly endive (frisée) is all about the frizzle, with vibrant green leaves that look like a feathery explosion, offering a stronger bitter bite.

🤔 What’s the Difference Between Escarole and Endive?

Escarole vs. Endive
Escarole vs. Endive

Think of the relationship like this: all escarole is endive, but not all endives are escarole. They’re part of the larger Chicory family. Escarole has broad, ruffled leaves that are paler toward the center.

Curly endive (frisée) has intensely frizzy, vibrant green leaves. Belgian endive is a tight, pale yellow head that resembles a tiny cabbage.

While they share some similarities, each type of endive has its distinct flavor profile and best uses.

Keep reading to learn more about these tasty greens!

🥬 Exploring the Endive Family

Fresh endive, green chicory salad isolated on white background
fresh endive green chicory salad isolated on white background

The chicory family includes a wide variety of tasty and nutritious leafy greens.

As the former chef and barista at the Boat Basin Cafe, I developed a deep appreciation for these diverse vegetables. Let’s focus on a few stars of the endive group:

Leafy GreenDescriptionBest UseBest Season
EscaroleBroad, pale leaves with a subtly bitter flavor.Soups and pairs well with beans.Spring and fall harvests.
Curly Endive (Frisée)Feathery, frizzy leaves that add delightful texture to dishes.Lightly sautéed.Peak sweetness after cold nights and sunny days.
Belgian EndiveTightly packed yellow heads, grown in complete darkness to achieve their unique color.Base for starters or salads with a light dressing.Not specified, but the darkness-grown aspect is crucial for its unique color.
  • Escarole: This leafy green has broad, pale leaves and a subtly bitter flavor. It shines in soups and pairs beautifully with beans. I find the mildest, most delicious escarole comes from spring and fall harvests.
  • Curly Endive (Frisée): With its feathery, frizzy leaves, frisée adds a delightful texture to dishes. Try it lightly sautéed. This green reaches peak sweetness after cold nights and sunny days.
  • Belgian Endive: These tightly packed yellow heads are elegant and delicious. Use them as a base for starters or salads with a light dressing. That unique yellow color comes from growing the endives in complete darkness.

Beyond the Stars

While escarole, frisée, and Belgian endives are standouts, the extended endive family boasts other delights. These include:

  • Radicchio: Known for its pleasantly bitter-sweet taste.
  • Chicory: Offers long, slender shoots.

👅 The Taste Factor: Understanding Bitterness

As I experimented with endives behind the counter at Boat Basin Cafe, I discovered tricks to balance and enhance their signature bitter notes. It all comes down to light exposure.

GreenFlavor NotesBitterness Level
EscaroleMildly bitter, nutty undertoneLess bitter than arugula
Curly EndiveAssertively bitter, lemon/herb nuancesMore bitter than arugula
RadicchioBitter-sweet, gentle spice nuanceSimilar bitterness to arugula
ArugulaThe most bitter green on listN/A
Dandelion GreensIntensely bitter, earthy flavorThe most bitter green on the list

Think of it like the endives getting a tan – the more sun they soak up before harvest, the more bitter compounds develop.

Escarole and curly endive have broad leaves capturing more rays, while Belgian endive is blanched, blocking light to keep that delicate, pale color and mellower flavor.

I’ll admit, I used to shy away from assertive curly endive. But now a quick sauté to gently wilt the leaves or pairing with sweet fall fruit makes it one of my favorite ingredients.

The pleasant pop of bitterness contrasts beautifully with other flavors.

So don’t be afraid to embrace the bite! Taming Endive’s boldest qualities through cooking unlock a tasty depth.

As chef David Tanis says, “Bitter is an important flavor that connects us to old-school vegetable tastiness.” Well said.

🔥 Cooking Beyond Salads

fresh salad in a glass bowl. Salad. Organic food. Healthy vegetable salad with escarole endive
fresh salad in a glass bowl salad organic food healthy vegetable salad with escarole endive

As a former chef, I love discovering ways to transform ingredients beyond basic preparations.

When it comes to endive, salads, and raw applications only scratch the surface of their potential. A little heat in the pan can work magic!

The Chicory Family:

  • Escarole: Transform it into a comforting soup with white beans and Parmesan. Sauté with olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice for a tasty side, or bake into cheesy gratins for depth of flavor.
  • Curly Endive (Frisée): Quickly sauté leaves to mellow bitterness, then finish with cream. Try pairing raw leaves with sweet winter fruit like pears or pomegranate seeds, or add to hot pasta with crisp bacon for a lovely contrast.
  • Belgian Endive: Halve lengthwise and braise in broth and sherry for a sweet taste. Grill for light charring, or roast alongside root vegetables.

The Italians have perfected bitter greens for centuries… I often find myself seeking inspiration from Italian cuisine, especially with members of the chicory family like escarole, radicchio, and frisée.

These leafy greens offer delicious complexity and health benefits. Think beyond the salad bowl!

💁🏻‍♂️ More Endive and Bean Inspiration:

  • Escarole soup packed with hearty beans.
  • Recipes like escarole and beans with sausage are classics.
  • Endive adds pleasant bitterness to dishes like wedding soup.
  • Substitute escarole for other greens like chard or rapini in hearty pasta dishes or alongside meatballs.

🌟 Vitamin Powerhouses

When researching ingredients for Boat Basin Cafe, I discovered endives are more than tasty greens – they’re vitamin goldmines! Here’s why:

  • Escarole: A single cup of escarole delivers 144% of your daily vitamin K needs, crucial for bone health and blood clotting. Pair it with Parmesan cheese for an additional calcium boost!
  • Curly endive: Provides nearly half your daily vitamin A, key for immunity, healthy skin, and eyes. It also offers a third of your daily vitamin C for antioxidant protection.
  • Belgian endive: Each head delivers a massive 10 grams of fiber – almost half the daily recommended amount for women. This keeps your digestion running smoothly.

While the unique flavors attracted me initially, the stellar nutrition profiles containing over 100% vitamin K, 50% vitamin A in some varieties, and copious fiber make Endives regular staples in my kitchen routine now.

As health writer Kris Gunnars notes, “Leafy greens are the #1 most important food group on the planet.” Hard to argue with that!

🌱 DIY Blanching for Milder Escarole

Raw Green Organic Escarole Lettuce
raw green organic escarole lettuce

One tip I picked up working with diverse greens is that you can easily tone down bitterness at home through quick blanching. This works particularly well for assertive escarole.

Here’s how:

  1. Fill a bowl with ice water and set aside. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.
  2. Separate escarole leaves and submerge in boiling water for 1 minute, then drain and plunge into the ice bath.
  3. Use blanched escarole anywhere you want milder flavor and texture – pasta, soups, sautés. It nicely holds its shape while cooking too.

You can use this technique on any homegrown or store-bought escarole. I love having the option to balance flavors as needed. As chef Lidia Bastianich says, “Blanching makes vegetables more mellow so they can combine easily with other ingredients.” So handy!


“For those who enjoy bold flavors, grab feathery, bitter curly endive to hold its own with strong ingredients like citrus, nuts, or bacon. Seekers of comfort food will love broad-leafed escarole braised into soups or paired with creamy beans.

And fancy dinner party hosts can count on elegant, delicate Belgian endive to impress guests with sophisticated salads.”

Challenge Accepted: “Next time you’re at the market, grab an endive you haven’t tried based on your taste and texture preferences. You might just surprise yourself!”

I hope you’ve discovered the delicious potential of the endive family after reading! My time collaborating with greens at Boat Basin Cafe taught me new flavors emerge when you move these unique ingredients beyond salad bowls…

Relevant Reads

Table of Contents