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The 5 Best Frisée Substitutes

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The five best frisée substitutes for your salads, soups, or other dishes include radicchio, endive, escarole, chicory, or arugula. Frisée’s signature peppery flavor is present in all of them to some degree, and they are all just as easy to work with as frisée.

Of course, these substitutes also have distinct traits, such as texture and size. Often, what we like about a specific food goes beyond its flavor, but we may not realize it until we try to substitute one ingredient for another. So if you’re looking for a long-term replacement, try each more than once to compare how similar they are to frisée.

1. Radicchio

Box of red chicory also called radicchio for sale at a grocery

Use radicchio to match Frisée’s slightly bitter taste. Though its color is drastically different – Delish describes radicchio as having a dark purple shade while frisée is a typical leafy green – the flavor palettes are surprisingly similar. Use about half as much radicchio as you would frisée, or add extra for a more pungent spicy taste.

2. Escarole

Raw green organic escarole lettuce

Sub in escarole to capture the same feel as frisée. The NC State Extension points out that the two greens are part of the same family and have the same slightly bitter taste, but their leaves also share the same texture. So for salads, you can use the same amount of escarole as you would frisée.

3. Arugula

Bunch of arugula herbs isolated on white background

Food Print describes Arugula as an easy-to-find substitute that’s available all year. It’s less bitter than frisée but has more of a spicy taste, so it’s not a perfect match flavor-wise. That being said, arugula is one of the most common greens to find at grocery stores and comes packaged in various ways, making it accessible year-round.

4. Endive

Raw organic belgian endive

Try endive if you’re looking for something a bit heartier than frisee but that still has the same flavor profile. Endive leaves are curly like frisée, but they’re thicker and less tender, adding some crunch to your dish. Using it as a substitute can, according to Food Print, make salads more nutritious. 

5. Chicory

Chicory (witloof) on a plate

Chicory is a very robust substitute. It’s thicker and more bitter than frisée, giving you additional flavor and weight. When a recipe calls for frisée, use half that much chicory for a close flavor approximation.

These greens make the cut because they deliver some of the same peppery taste as frisée, though none will perfectly match the flavor. If you’re more concerned with replicating the texture of frisée, some of these choices may rub you the wrong way. In a worst-case scenario, any of them can be cut into thin strips to emulate frisée’s delicate leaves.

Why Is Frisée So Hard To Find?

Frisée goes by many names: baby curly endive, French or Belgian edvine, endive lettuce, and chicory lettuce, to name a few. But no matter what names it goes by, frisée can be hard to come by. Moreover, the price can be higher than expected when you find it, putting it out of your budget’s reach.

Frisée has similarities with many types of lettuce, but its most unique point is what makes it so difficult to find at times: the flavor. 

Frisée  is so hard to find because it must be grown in precise conditions that combine natural processes with some man-made ingenuity. As a result, having a healthy, viable crop takes a lot of labor; even then, the results aren’t guaranteed.

To achieve its signature bitter taste, frisée must undergo a process called blanching. Usually, when we hear “blanching,” we think of boiling a vegetable in the kitchen and quickly transferring it to freezing-cold water. But, as the NY Times describes, blanching frisée means temporarily depriving the plant of sunlight.

About three-fourths into its growth cycle, the green outer leaves are bound or covered in such a way to protect the still yellowish insides. Rubber bands and ties are commonly used for this, but an alternative is to lay boards over the crop (without crushing it) to block the sunlight. After a few days, the binds are broken, revealing that the outside has grown darker and the inside lighter.

In a way, blanching stunts frisée’s growth. This process prevents photosynthesis from taking place completely, stunting the innards’ growth and turning it into a specialty product. Thus its scarcity is tied to how many farmers choose to use this process before selling the crop.

Frisée grows best between February and October. Its ideal conditions vary depending on which specific variety of the plant you’re growing. When it’s grown and harvested can impact the labor costs, which in turn influences its retail price.

Therefore, frisée is often sold as a specialty or gourmet product directly from its labor-intensive growing process. Whether you find it prepackaged or source it from a farmer’s market, frisée will cost more than most other leafy greens on your shopping list.

Are Frisée and Escarole the Same?

As mentioned earlier, frisée goes by many names. Sometimes, it even goes by the names of different greens. Such is the case with escarole, a bitter green whose name is sometimes used in place of frisée.

Despite some similarities in texture and flavor, escarole and frisée are not the same. One key difference is appearance: escarole has much larger leaves than frisée. Additionally, the leaves are thicker and sturdier than those of frisée.

Those are two traits you’ll notice immediately if you use escarole in place of frisée in a dish.

You’ll also notice that escarole has a milder taste. While still bitter, it’s much more mild (as Bon Appetit explains here), so it’s sometimes used as an introduction to using bitter greens in salads and other dishes. You’ll also find that recipes using escarole call for a larger quantity than those utilizing frisée to make up for its more subtle flavor.

While the two plants are distinct from one another, they are related. That they fall into the same family may be the reason why so many assume the two are the same. Shoppers can spot the mistaken identity on restaurant menus and supermarket packaging alike.

Is Frisée the Same as Endive?

Frisée is not exactly the same as all endive species. Technically, both frisée and escarole fall under the endive family, so they are related. Therefore, it’s more accurate to say that frisée is a type of endive rather than the same thing. However, endives are not, by default, a kind of frisée.

Think of it this way: every frisée you can think of is also considered endive. However, endives are a broader category of leafy green, and as such, not all of them can be regarded as a frisée. Understandably, this confuses many people who mistakenly believe there is a complete overlap between the two.

The easiest way to differentiate a frisée from an endive is to look at the leaves. Frisée’s leaves have a more frilled appearance, curling inward somewhat. By comparison, endive leaves that aren’t Frisée tend to have more rounded edges.

Some of the “is it the same” confusion stems from an alternative name for frisée: curly endive. Those without a culinary background may see this and think curly endive is a separate plant from frisée. Rest assured, however, that they are one and the same.

Is Frisée the Same as Chicory?

We called for using chicory as a substitute for frisée, so it must be different, right? Sounds logical, but the opposite is actually true: chicory and frisée are the same plant, as the BBC explains. However, they look and taste differently, so they’re often considered different greens.

Chicory is actually how frisée starts when it’s first planted and growing. The blanching process described above, which gets introduced about three-fourths into its growth cycle, is what turns it into frisée. By preventing photosynthesis, the chicory keeps a darker color and more robust taste.

Why Do Restaurant Menus Use These Names Interchangeably?

So we’ve established that frisée goes by many names and is (usually) a different plant from many of its substitutes. However, fine dining establishments are sometimes guilty of using these other plants and calling them frisée. Is it deliberate foodie fraud?

To better understand why restaurants, and even supermarkets, may misuse the frisée name, you need to look no further than cultural differences. The word “frisée” comes from France, where it was popularized in gourmet dishes as both an ingredient and garnish. But not too far away in the United Kingdom, frisée is called chicory, even when adequately blanched.

In other regions, the name used can reflect cultural sensibilities. For example, frisée is often used when chefs want to make their dishes (and ingredients) sound more exotic. Meanwhile, chicory appeals to more rural, country preferences.

Because the names are sometimes used to mean the same plant, you may not know what you’re getting until your order arrives. But the best way to identify true frisée is to look at the leaves. True frisée will have thin, curly leaves.

If you see anything other than thin, curly leaves, you’re probably eating something else, even if the menu calls it frisée.

For more, don’t miss How Long Foods Last in a Root Cellar (Printable Storage Chart).

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