Belgium's white gold
According to an old legend chicory would have been discovered by chance. In the struggle for independence in 1830, a Belgian farmer called Jan Lammers of Brussels had hidden his chicory roots in his cellar hidden under a layer of sand. A few weeks later and thanks to a mild winter, he discovered that the bitter roots had sprouted in complete darkness. The new white leaves were fresh and tender. Accordingly, he sold these leaves as raw winter vegetables and called them chicorées witloof. However, according to experts, there would be little truth in this story.
Those exert say that it was Frans Breziers, cultivating expert at the Botanical Garden in Brussels that cultivated the chicory species in 1851. He discovered that the new vegetables needed heat and humidity and no light, without the light the plant produces no chlorophyll, the substance that gives vegetables their green look.
Anyhow, the "white leaf" or "Brussels lof" was sold for the first time in 1867 on the Brussels markets and in 1883 in the Parisian halls. Over time and thanks to better techniques of cultivating the leaves became larger and firmer.
Because of the success of the chicory based vegetable, more and more farmers in and around Brussels and Leuven cultivated the white leaves and named them Witloof. Over time Witloof got the name "white gold" because of big profit that could be made out of them. During World War One the Belgian farmers fled to Northern France to start the chicory cultivation there. From there on the vegetable was transported all over Europe. The North of France and Belgium are still the biggest chicorées witloof exporters of the world. In Italy witloof is called lattuga belga or Belgian salad.