Horseradish is a long, knobby root—it’s an herb, not a vegetable–that has no aroma until you scratch, cut, or grate it.
The pungent odor and the hot taste of horseradish are due to a volatile oil—similar to mustard oil—that is released when the cells of the horseradish root are bruised or broken. When sulfur in the oil mixes with the air near your eyes, nose or mouth, the chemical reaction is the one you recognize as eye watering, sinus-clearing, and sharp tasting.
You can eat horseradish raw, pickled or cooked, but it is most often added as a condiment to sauces.
Horseradish is at its strongest and most biting when it is fresh grated. A horseradish root that has not been cut or bruised will maintain its pungency almost indefinitely, but after it has been cut it will start to lose its zing.
Cooked horseradish has a mild flavor. That’s why recipes that call for horseradish as a taste booster in cooking usually advise that it be added towards the end of cooking. Horseradish cooked as a vegetable is quite mild.
Fresh, grated horseradish is so strong that it is often diluted in order to tone down the bite. Cream, lemon, and vinegar are three additives commonly used to stabilize the sharp taste of horseradish.
Horseradish is believed to have originated in southeastern Europe. It is a member of the mustard family.
Horseradish root usually grows from 6 to 15 inches (15-38 cm) long, has several rounded knobs at the root end, and measures 1 to 3 inches (3.5-7.5 cm) in diameter. The plant itself can grow to 3 feet (.9 m) tall and has stems with wavy, jagged leaves.
Choose. Select a root that is hard and free of soft or spongy spots. The horseradish root should show no signs of blemishes or withering or mold. Avoid sprouting, green-tinged horseradish—it could be bitter. Large roots may be fibrous.
Store. Wrap horseradish in a slightly dampened towel and then a dry one. You can keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Cut out soft or moldy spots if they appear. You can freeze horseradish root and grate it as you need it.
Prepare. Don’t cut or prepare horseradish until you are ready to use it. Wash the root and scrape or pare off the skin which can have an unpleasant flavor. Remove the fibrous core which is tasteless before grating or any green areas under the peel which can be quite bitter.
Cut off as much of the root as you will use. To prevent peeled horseradish from turning brown, sprinkle it with lemon juice or vinegar mixed in water. Grind or grate horseradish in a well-ventilated room; keep your nose away from fumes. To avoid tearing up, use a food processor to mince the root make the process less tearful
Serve. Horseradish can be used fresh or pickled. You can grate, diced, julienne, or slice it. Use an inch or two at one time, just peel the section you will be grating.
- Horseradish can be grated and used in sauces or as a condiment with fish or meat. You can serve horseradish with beef, pork, smoked fish and strong-flavored vegetables.
- Serve horseradish with poached sausages and potato salad or with cold cuts or gefilte fish.
- Mix 2 or 3 tablespoons horseradish with 1 cup sour cream or whipped cream to accompany roast beef or prime rib.
- Use horseradish as an ingredient of sauces, relishes, vinaigrettes, mustard, and flavored-butter or dipping sauce. Whipped or sour cream will calm the flavor of horseradish.
- Add grated horseradish, salt, and lemon juice or vinegar to sour cream and serve cold with roast beef or asparagus.
- Make a cocktail sauce with ketchup or chili sauce, and grated horseradish.
- Blend horseradish with butter to top vegetables.
- Serve horseradish potatoes, beets, celery, parsnip, tuna, legumes, applesauce, delicatessen meats and eggs, hot or cold beef, smoked trout or mackerel, raw seafood on the half shell, or as a spread on sandwiches. Add horseradish to cream, yogurt or mayonnaise.
White bottled horseradish is grated horseradish preserved in vinegar. Red horseradish is grated horseradish in beef juice.
Horseradish facts and trivia. The name horseradish can be broken into two parts “horse” or hoarse denotes large size and coarseness, and “radish” comes from the Latin word radix which means “root”.
The horseradish root looks like a gnarled parsnip with a green top. It has knobby, brown skin that is rough and wrinkled and a creamy white flesh that is firm.
Horseradish came into culinary use in eastern and central Europe during the Renaissance. From there, it spread north into Scandinavia, Alsace, Russia and Germany and later to England. Horseradish was brought to the United States in the mid-1850s when horseradish farms were established by European immigrants in the Midwest.
The botanical name for horseradish is Armoracia rusticana.