If you enjoy Italian food, you might have already encountered escarole — a leafy, bitter green that looks a lot like lettuce.
Escarole is a traditional ingredient in Italian wedding soup, which usually combines this vegetable with a small, round pasta and meatballs or sausage in chicken broth. This hearty green can also be found in stews, salads, and pastas.
However, many people don’t know whether to classify escarole as an endive or a lettuce.
This article explains all you need to know about escarole, including its nutrients, health benefits, and culinary uses.
Escarole (Cichorium endivia) is a member of the chicory family. It’s often confused not only with lettuce but also its botanical relatives, which include curly endive, radicchio, frisée, and other bitter green vegetables (
Technically, escarole is considered a flat-leafed variety of endive. What’s commonly called “endive” is Belgian endive, a yellow-green plant with tightly layered, cylindrical leaves (2).
All the same, you’ll usually find this hearty plant bunched in with the kales and lettuces at the supermarket.
While escarole looks a lot like butterhead lettuce, you can tell them apart because escarole has wide, green leaves with slightly jagged, crumpled edges that cluster into a rosette — whereas the broad leaves of lettuce are wavy and smooth (
Unlike lettuce, escarole offers a pleasant bitterness and versatility. It’s milder and tenderer than curly endive.
While native to the East Indies, escarole grows in a variety of climates and is now found across the globe. It’s especially popular in Italian cuisine (2).
Escarole is a flat-leafed endive that belongs to the chicory family. Its broad leaves have crumpled, slightly jagged edges that distinguish it from butterhead lettuce. While bitterer than lettuce, it’s less sharp than curly endive.
Like other members of the chicory family, escarole gets its bitter notes from a plant compound called lactucopicrin, which is also known as intybin (
Plus, similarly to other leafy greens, this veggie packs amble nutrients into very few calories. Every 2 cups (85 grams) of raw escarole — about one-sixth of a medium head — provides (
- Calories: 15
- Carbs: 3 grams
- Protein: 1 gram
- Fat: 0 grams
- Fiber: 3 grams
- Iron: 4% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Vitamin A: 58% of the DV
- Vitamin K: 164% of the DV
- Vitamin C: 10% of the DV
- Folate: 30% of the DV
- Zinc: 6% of the DV
- Copper: 9% of the DV
With very few calories and no fat, escarole heaps micronutrients and fiber — just 2 raw cups (85 grams) deliver 12% of the DV for fiber (
What’s more, this same serving provides 9% of the DV for copper and 30% for folate. Copper supports proper bone, connective tissue, and red blood cell formation, whereas folate helps ensure proper metabolism and create red and white blood cells (
Both minerals are especially important for proper fetal development and thus vital for women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant (
Escarole packs fiber and several nutrients, including copper, folate, and vitamins A, C, and K — all with very few calories and zero fat.
Escarole is nutrient-dense and boasts many potential health benefits.
May promote gut health
The two types of fiber — soluble and insoluble — act differently in your body.
While soluble fiber bulks up your stool and feeds the friendly bacteria in your gut, the insoluble type passes through your digestive system unchanged, promoting gut health by pushing food through your gut and stimulating bowel movements (
Notably, escarole provides mostly insoluble fiber. Boasting 12% of your daily fiber needs per 2 cups (85 gram), it can help keep your bowels regular and prevent the discomfort of constipation and piles (
May support eye health
Escarole is rich in provitamin A, providing 54% of the DV in only 2 cups (85 grams) (
This vitamin promotes eye health, as it’s an important component of rhodopsin, a pigment in your retina that helps discern between lightness and darkness (
Chronic vitamin A deficiencies are linked to visual issues like night blindness, a condition in which people can’t see well at night but have no trouble with their vision in the daylight
Vitamin A deficiencies are also associated with macular degeneration, an age-related decline in eyesight that results in blindness (
May reduce inflammation
In addition to its impressive nutrient profile, escarole boasts many powerful antioxidants, which are compounds that defend your body against oxidative stress and unstable molecules called free radicals. Long-term oxidative stress may trigger inflammation (
Studies suggest that kaempferol, an antioxidant in escarole, may safeguard your cells against chronic inflammation (
Yet, these studies are limited to rats and test tubes. Human research is needed to fully understand kaempferol’s effects on inflammation (
May promote bone and heart health
Vitamin K is important for normal blood clotting, as well as regulating calcium levels in your heart and bones. Leafy greens like escarole deliver a subtype called vitamin K1.
This vegetable offers a whopping 164% of your daily needs of this nutrient per 2-cup (85-gram) raw serving (
A 2-year study in 440 postmenopausal women found that supplementing with 5 mg of vitamin K1 daily resulted in a 50% reduction in bone fractures, compared with a placebo group (
Furthermore, a 3-year study in 181 postmenopausal women found that combining vitamin K1 with vitamin D significantly slowed the hardening of arteries associated with heart disease (
Sufficient vitamin K intake is associated with a decreased risk of heart disease and early death from this condition (
Escarole’s many benefits include supporting gut and eye health. It may likewise reduce inflammation and promote proper blood clotting and bone health.
Escarole is a versatile veggie but lends itself particularly well to raw salads and heartier dishes. Its outer leaves are bitter and chewy, while its yellow inner leaves are sweeter and tenderer.
An acid like lemon juice or vinegar counters the bitterness of raw escarole. If you’re sensitive to sharp flavors, cooking it will also help mellow it out. In this vein, you can sauté it or add it to a soup.
Escarole even works on the grill. To grill it, cut the vegetable into fourths lengthwise. Then, brush on canola oil, which has a higher smoke point than most other oils and is less likely to generate toxic compounds at high heat (
Then sprinkle on salt and pepper and grill it for about 3 minutes per side. Serve it with your favorite sauces or dips, such as a lemony Greek yogurt or white bean dip.
You can eat escarole raw in salads or cook it in a variety of ways, including sautéing and grilling. Adding acids will tone down its bitterness, as will cooking it.
Like any raw vegetable, escarole should be thoroughly washed in clean, running water before eating it. This reduces the threat of foodborne illnesses by flushing out harmful bacteria (
Though this leafy green is incredibly healthy, people who take blood thinners may want to moderate their intake.
That’s because blood thinners like warfarin are known to interact with vitamin K. Rapid fluctuations in levels of this vitamin can counter the effects of your blood thinner, putting you at risk of serious side effects, such as blood clots, which can lead to stroke and heart attack (
What’s more, eating escarole regularly can exacerbate kidney stones in people with kidney problems. Its high content of oxalate — a plant compound that helps get rid of excess calcium — may be to blame, as this substance is filtered by your kidneys (
Be sure to wash your escarole thoroughly before eating it. People who take blood thinners or have kidney problems may also want to monitor their intake.
Escarole is a broad-leafed endive that looks like butterhead lettuce save for its slightly crumpled, jagged leaves. To balance out its bitter notes, you can cook it or sprinkle on lemon juice or vinegar.
This vegetable boasts numerous benefits for your eyes, guts, bones, and heart. It makes a great addition to salads and soups — and can even be grilled.
If you’re interested in varying up your veggie routine, give this unique leafy green a try.