Eating pungent radish and drinking hot tea, let the starved doctors beg on their knees.–Chinese proverb
Radishes (Raphanus sativus) are in the Brassicaceae family, along with along with cabbage, kale, collards, kholrabi, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, bok choy, rapini, napa cabbage, turnips, mustard, watercress, arugula, radishes, horseradish, daikon, land cress, rutabaga, and shepherd’s purse.
Wild forms of the radish can be found all over west Asia and Europe, suggesting that they were domesticated somewhere in that region. Radishes, onions, and garlic were paid as wages to the Ancient Egyptian laborers who built the pyramids. The Chinese grew radishes as early as 700 B.C. and introduced them to Japan, where they are the most popular vegetable. The Greeks and Romans preferred their radishes big—up to 100 pounds each—grown for winter storage and served with honey and vinegar. Radishes were not widely grown in Britain until Elizabethan times, when they were eaten as an appetizer. The early settlers took them to America where they ate them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Thomas Jefferson, an avid gardener, recorded his planting of radishes, along with broccoli, lettuce, and cauliflower on May 27, 1767.
Their biting pungent flavor comes from the isothiocyanate compound in them, which ranges from mild in the case of white icicles to be very hot in red globe and other pigmented radishes. The top greens are also edible and as nutritious as mustard or turnip greens.
Radishes come in different forms varying in size, color and duration of required cultivation time:
- Daikon or Japanese radishes are native to Asia. They are generally grown during winter months and have elongated smooth, icy-white roots.
- Black Spanish radishes are peppery and more flavorful than their white counterparts. They are turnip-like in size and shape, with black skin, and are particularly pungent, so if you’re not used to its bite, you might want to peel this one.
- Green radish is native to Northern China. Its outer peel near the top stem end features leafy-green color which, gradually changes to white color near the lower tip. Inside, its flesh has a beautiful jade green color, with a sweet and less pungent flavor.
- Watermelon radishes have watermelon like flesh inside. However, they taste sweet and less peppery, something similar to that of white varieties. They are an heirloom daikon radish with creamy white to pale green skin with magenta flesh.
- Red globe radishes are the most common and popular in the U.S. They are small, round, and, of course, red.
- White icicle radishes are white and carrot-shaped.
- French breakfast radishes are an elongated, red-skinned radish with a white splash at the root end.
- Easter egg radishes are not a true variety but a marketing technique, whereby a combination of white, pink, red, and purple radishes are bundled and sold together (similar to rainbow chard).
When left to grow for longer than the usual root harvest period, all radish varieties bear small flowers, which subsequently develop into edible fruit pods. Podding or a rat-tailed radish is a type of seed pod variety grown exclusively for their long rat-tail like tapering pods. The pods feature mild radish-like flavor and spiciness.
Radishes are a very low calorie root vegetable. Fresh radish root provides just 16 calories per 100 grams; nonetheless; they are a very good source of antioxidants, electrolytes, minerals, vitamins, and fiber. Like other cruciferous and Brassica family vegetables, radishes contain allyl-isothiocyanates, which fight bladder cancer, and sulforaphane, which fights prostate, breast, colon, and ovarian cancers by inhibiting the growth of cancer cells and causing them to die.
Fresh radish roots are rich in vitamin C; they provide about 15 milligrams, or 25% of Daily Value (DV) of vitamin C per 100 grams. In addition, they contain adequate levels of folate, vitamin B6, riboflavin, thiamine, and minerals such as iron, magnesium, copper, and calcium. Radishes contain potassium, an important component of cell and body fluids that plays an important role in lowering blood pressure, regulating fluid balance, regulating heart rhythm, maintaining normal function of your brain and central nervous system, storing carbohydrates that are used as fuel by your muscles, and promoting regular muscle growth. Further, they contain many phytochemicals like indoles which are detoxifying agents, caffeic acid salicylic acid, which are anti-inflammatory, and pelargonidin, oxalic acid, zea-xanthin, lutein, and beta carotene, which are antioxidants. Their total antioxidant strength, measured in terms of oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC value), is 1736 µmol TE/100 g.
Nutrients in 100 grams of raw radishes
|Vitamin C||14.8 mg||
|Vitamin B6||0.071 mg||
|Vitamin K||1.3 µg||
In general, radishes are available year-round, with peak season during winter and spring. Daikons are most flavorful and juicy during winter.
Look for roots that are fresh, stout, and firm in texture. Their top greens also should be fresh, and feature crispy green without any yellow, shriveled leaves. Avoid roots that have cracks or cuts on their surface. If the root yields to pressure and is soft, the interior likely be pithy instead of crispy.
At home, separate the greens from the roots, then store them in a sealed container in the refrigerator where they remain fresh for up to a week.
You can eat both the roots and the greens.
Radishes can be eaten raw or cooked in casseroles or soups. Scrub radishes just before you plan to eat them. Avoid peeling the roots, as the anti-oxidant allyl-isothiocyanates, which gives a peppery pungent flavor to radish, are heavily concentrated in the peel. Just wash the root thoroughly, trim the tip ends, and if you have to peel, then gently pare away the thin superficial layer only.
Here are some serving suggestions:
- Serve small radishes whole or chopped; you can cut or grate larger radishes.
- Eat radishes raw either whole or as slaw or in salads with carrots, beets, cucumber, lettuce, and other vegetables.
- Add radishes to plates for garnishes. Red radishes are a good way to add color to a vegetable tray.
- Grate red radishes into pasta or bean salads for a slightly different taste and texture.
- Mix radishes with other vegetables and steam, stir fry, or sautee.
- Grate the root, mix it with spice and seasonings, and stuff it inside bread to prepare North Indian and Pakistani “mooli parantha.”
- Eat radish pods (moongre in India) raw or in salads or in stir-fries, as is common in many parts of Asia.
- Mix radish greens with other greens like spinach or turnip greens, and use them in salads, soups, curries, and other dishes.
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