Main research question/goal
The roots of chicory contain the storage carbohydrate inulin, an valuable food ingredient. The food industry uses inulin (a chain of fructose molecules ending in a glucose molecule) as a prebiotic dietary fiber in bakery and dairy products. Chicory breeding aims to develop cultivars with a high inulin yield per ha and good fibre quality. The inulin yield of the chicory crop is the result of the fresh root yield and the inulin content. The main quality parameters are the inulin chain length and the absence of free sugars. The potential root yield is not only a genetic feature but depends also on the length of the growing season and the root shape. Cold weather during autumn induces the inulin chains to break down resulting in lower fiber quality.Research approach
To improve root yield we try to develop stable hybrid cultivars based on self incompatibility or male sterility. We extend the growing period in two ways. Selection for bolting resistance and early vigour allows an early sowing in spring. Selection for leaf health and persistence enables the growth to continue in summer and autumn. Selection for an ovoid root shape reduces losses during harvest. The development of herbicide resistant varieties helps the farmer to control the weeds. Recurrent selection for inulin content and inulin chain length after applying a cold stress on the roots leads to better inulin quality.Relevance/Valorisation
Belgium is the biggest industrial chicory producing and processing country in the world and has a long tradition in cultivating chicory. Chicory belongs to a botanical family (Asteraceae) that does not occur frequently in the current crop rotation. The cultivation of chicory may increase diversity. The consumption of inulin contributes to public health. The main output of the chicory breeding programme is new cultivars with a surplus value for farmers and industry. The yield increase guarantees a good revenue for the farmer and an attractive raw material for the industry. The improvement of the quality makes the processing more efficient. New technologies are valorized by breeding and variety development.