Horseradish

Other names: Horseradish Root

Availability: All year. Low supplies in late spring.

Source: United States.

Handling Tips: 32-34°F. Mist or ice for display.

General Information: Almost everyone is familiar with the strong, nose-tingling taite of horseradish. Horseradish is a member of the mustard family (sharing lineage with its gentler cousins, kale, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts and the common radish) and is cultivated for its thick, fleshy white roots.

The horseradish root itself has hardly any aroma. When cut or grated, however, enzymes from the damaged plant cells break down sinigrin (a glucosinolate) to produce allyl isothiocyanate (mustard oil), which irritates the sinuses and eyes. Once grated, if not used immediately or mixed in vinegar, the root darkens and loses its pungency and becomes unpleasantly bitter when exposed to air and heat.

Ethnic: The root is used as a vegetable or ground in a condiment called prepared horseradish, and has at times been used as the bitter herbs in the Passover meal in some Jewish communities. Horseradish, sometimes blended with cream and called horseradish sauce, is often served with roast or boiled beef or sausages, as well as smoked fish. Horseradish is also used in some prepared mustards.

Horseradish sauce made from grated horseradish root and cream is a popular condiment in the United Kingdom. It is often served with roast beef, but can be used in a number of other dishes also.

Additionally, since real wasabi is very expensive, even in Japan, most Japanese restaurants around the world actually serve a horseradish mixture that has been dyed green. In fact, the Japanese botanical name for horseradish is seiyowasabi, or "Western wasabi".

Applications: Most often found in a "prepared" form or processed with vinegar and beets, its flavor is unmistakable. Peel, then grate fresh horseradish on meat, seafood and vegetables. This spicy, tumip-flavored root adds zest to soups and stews too.

In addition to the most popular basic prepared horseradish, a number of other horseradish products are available, including cream-style prepared horseradish, horseradish sauce, beet horseradish and dehydrated horseradish. Cocktail sauce, specialty mustards, and many other sauces, dips, spreads, relishes and dressings also may contain horseradish.

History: Horseradish was cultivated in antiquity. Cato discusses the plant in his treatises on agriculture, and a mural in Pompeii showing the plant has survived until today. It is probably the plant mentioned by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History under the name of Amoracia, and recommended by him for its medicinal qualities, and possibly the Wild Radish, or raphanos agrios of the Greeks.

Both root and leaves were universally used as a medicine during the Middle Ages, and as a condiment in Denmark and Germany.

William Turner mentions horseradish as Red Cole in his "Herbal" (1551-1568), but not as a condiment. In "The Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes" (1597), John Gerard describes it under the name of raphanus rusticanus, stating that it occurs wild in several parts of England. After referring to its medicinal uses, he says: "the Horse Radish stamped with a little vinegar put thereto, is commonly used among the Germans for sauce to eate fish with and such like meates as we do mustarde."

It is still used this way in Jewish and Romanian cuisine, where a sweetened horseradish-vinegar sauce called chrain or hrean traditionally accompanies gefilte fish. There are two varieties of chrain— "red" chrain and "white" chrain, i.e. mixed with or without red beet. It is also popular in Poland where it is called chrzan and in Hungary where they call it torma. Having chrzan or torma on the Easter table is a part of Polish and Hungarian Easter tradition. A variety with red beet also exists and it is called cwikla z chrzanem or simply cwikla. More recent appreciation of horseradish is believed to have originated in Central Europe, the area also linked to the most widely held theory of how horseradish was named. In German, it’s called "meerrettich" (sea radish) because it grows by the sea. Many believe the English mispronounced the German word "meer" and began calling it "mareradish." Eventually it became known as horseradish. The word "horse" (as applied in "horseradish") is believed to denote large size and coarseness. "Radish" comes from the Latin radix meaning root. During the Renaissance, horseradish consumption spread from Central Europe northward to Scandinavia and westward to England. It wasn’t until 1640, however, that the British ate horseradish -- and then it was consumed only by country folk and laborers. By the late 1600s, horseradish was the standard accompaniment for beef and oysters among all Englishmen. The English, in fact, grew the pungent root at inns and coach stations, to make cordials to revive exhausted travelers. Early settlers brought horseradish to North America and began cultivating it in the colonies. It was common in the northeast by 1806, and it grew wild near Boston by 1840. Commercial cultivation in America began in the mid 1850s, when immigrants started horseradish farms in the Midwest. By the late 1890s, a thriving horseradish industry had developed in an area of fertile soil on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River. Later, smaller centers of horseradish farming sprouted in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. After World War II, homesteaders in the Tulelake region of Northern California began cultivating the root in the west; other areas in the country followed suit.

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