Having a Taste of Horseradish

Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) is a perennial plant of the Brassicaceae family (which also includes wasabi, kale, collards, turnip, mustard, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, napa cabbage, rapini, and watercress, among other amazing vegetables). The plant is probably native to southeastern Europe and western Asia. It is now popular around the world.

The Egyptians knew about horseradish as far back as 1500 B.C. Early Greeks used it as a rub for low back pain and an aphrodisiac.

Roman legend has it the Oracle at Delphi told Apollo, “The radish is worth its weight in lead, the beet its weight in silver, the horseradish its weight in gold.” Marcus Porcius Cato (Cato the Elder) (234 BC,– 149 BC), a Roman statesman, discusses horseradish in De Agri Cultura, his treatise on agriculture, and a mural in Pompeii shows the plant. Gaius Plinius Secundus (Pliny the Elder) (23 – 79 AD), a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, mentioned horseradish in his Natural History under the name of Amoracia, and recommended it for its medicinal qualities.

Pedanius Dioscorides (circa 40—90 AD), a Greek physician, pharmacologist, and botanist, listed horseradish in De Materia Medica—a 5-volume encyclopedia of herbal medicine that was widely read for more than 1,500 years.

Jews still use it during Passover seders as one of the bitter herbs. Some used horseradish syrup as an expectorant cough medicine; others were convinced it cured everything from rheumatism to tuberculosis.

Both root and leaves were used as a medicine during the Middle Ages and the root was used as a condiment in Germany, Scandinavia, and Britain. During the Renaissance, horseradish consumption spread from Central Europe northward to Scandinavia and westward to England. The early Renaissance herbalists Pietro Andrea Mattioli and John Gerard listed it as Raphanus.

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:

“[T]he Horse Radish stamped with a little vinegar put thereto, is commonly used among the Germans for sauce”

In German, horseradish is 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. Despite the name, this plant is poisonous to horses.

Around 1640, English peasants began eating horseradish, and by the late 1600s, it was eaten by all classes. The English grew horseradish at inns and coach stations, to make cordials for weary travelers. Early settlers brought horseradish to North America and began cultivating it in the colonies, where it was known as “stingnose.” 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. Sales of bottled horseradish began in 1860, making it one of the first convenience foods. 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. Today, approximately 6 million gallons of prepared horseradish are produced annually in the U.S. Horseradish is still planted and harvested mostly by hand.

In the American South, horseradish i sometimes srubbed on the forehead to relieve headaches. Horseradish is added to some pickles to add firmness and “nip.” Germans still brew horseradish schnapps . . . . some also add it to their beer.

Horseradish can help fight flu, respiratory disorders, tonsillitis, and urinary tract infections. Tea made from the root has been used as an expectorant. Horseradish contains significant amounts of cancer-fighting compounds called glucosinolates, which increase the liver’s ability to detoxify carcinogens and may suppress the growth of tumors. Although broccoliBrussels sprouts, and other cruciferous vegetables also contain these compounds, horseradish has up to 10 times more glucosinolates than broccoli. Glucosinolates are responsible for the characteristic hot taste of horseradish, wasabi, and mustard. Once inside the body, glucosinolates are broken down into isothiocyanates and indoles, which are believed to be the main cancer-preventive contributors of horseradish and cruciferous vegetables. Processing actually improves the anticancer benefits of horseradish. Juice or sauce extracted from horseradish root has been used effectively to relieve sinus discomfort. Due to its antibiotic properties, horseradish can also be used to treat urinary tract infections (UTI) and destroy bacteria in the throat that can cause bronchitis, coughs, and related problems. Chemicals in horseradish are believed to concentrate in the urine, and therefore deliver antibiotic effects to the bladder. They may also activate specific enzymes that help to keep toxins from accumulating in the bladder. Additionally, horseradish is a diuretic, so bacteria or other inflammatory agents in the bladder get flushed out. One of the most powerful glycosides found in horseradish, sinigrin relives the symptoms of water retention, due to its stimulating effect on the blood capillaries. In addition to their potential uses as an anti-cancer drug, the glucosinolate compounds derived from horseradish may protect humans from the effects of exposure to toxins in the environment. Researchers at M.I.T. claim that the enzyme “horseradish peroxidase” removes a number of pollutants from waste water.

Horseradish is low in calories and fat; however, it contains a good amount of fibervitaminsminerals, and antioxidants. Certain active nutrients in it found to have been anti-inflammatory, diuretic, and nerve-soothing effects. Horseradish contains many volatile phytochemicals, including allyl isothiocyanate, 3-butenyl isothiocyanate, 2-propenylglucosinlate (sinigrin), 2-pentyl isothiocyanate, and phenylethyl isothiocyanate. These compounds have antioxidant as well as detoxification functions. It is a potent gastric stimulant, increases appetite, and aids in digestion. The volatile phytochemical compounds in the root stimulate salivary, gastric, and intestinal glands to secrete digestive enzymes, thereby facilitate digestion. Horseradish has good amounts of vitamin C, which is a powerful water soluble antioxidant. Just 100 grams of fresh root provides 29 mg or 41% of the Daily Value (DV). Vitamin C helps alleviate viral infections by boosting immunity. In addition, it helps remove harmful free radicals from your body and protect it from cancers, inflammation, and infections. Horseradish has vital minerals like sodiumzincmagnesiumcalciumcoppermanganesepotassiumiron, and phosphorus. In addition, the root has small amounts of essential vitamins such as folatevitamin B6niacinpantothenic acid, and riboflavin.

Nutrients in 100 Grams of Prepared Horseradish

Nutrient Amount DV
vitamin C 24.9 mg 41%
sodium 314 mg 21%
folate 57 µg 14%
carbohydrates 11.29 g 9%
fiber 3.3 g 9%
zinc 0.83 mg 8%
magnesium 27 mg 7%
vitamin B6 0.073 mg 6%
calcium 56 mg 6%
copper 0.058 mg 6%
manganese 0.126 mg 5.5%
potassium 246 mg 5%
iron 0.42 mg 5%
phosphorus 31 mg 4.5%
fat 0.69 g 3%
niacin 0.386 mg 2.5%
Calories 48 cal 2%
protein 1.18 g 2%
pantothenic acid 0.093 mg 2%
riboflavin 0.024 mg 2%
thiamine 0.008 mg 0.5%
vitamin A 2 IU 0.5%
cholesterol 0 mg 0%
carotene-ß 1 µg
crypto-xanthin-ß 0 µg
lutein-zeaxanthin 10 µg

Generally, horseradish root is harvested during the late fall when the leaves are killed by frost. Fresh root has beige outer color. You may also choose to buy fresh roots from the markets during the season. Select fresh, hard root that is devoid of sprouts, mold, or soft spots. Avoid green-tinged, over mature, old, and large roots.

At home store the root in a paper bag, and place it in the refrigerator where it will remain dormant for 6-9 months. Clean it using moist cloth to remove surface dirt as you do it for ginger. Wash gently in cold water and mop it dry. Cut the root from the tip end as much as you need for 2-3 days. Keep the unused root in a loosely wrapped container inside the refrigerator to prevent it from drying out.

The intact horseradish root has hardly any aroma, pungency or hotness. As with onion and radish, when cut or grated, enzymes from the broken plant cells break down sinigrin (a glucosinolate) to produce allyl isothiocyanate (mustard oil), which irritates the mucous membranes of your sinuses and eyes. Once exposed to air (via grating) or heat, if not used immediately or mixed in vinegar, the grated mash darkens, loses its pungency, and becomes unpleasantly bitter-tasting. Vinegar or citric acid neutralizes pungency and stabilizes its flavor. Generally, 2 to 3 tablespoons of white vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon of table salt added to one cup of grated horseradish. Add vinegar 1-2 minutes later to get milder preparation.

As with many other spices, horseradish too loses its flavor instantly. In order to keep the fragrance and flavor intact, it is generally grated just before preparing dishes and added to the cooking recipes at the final stages.

To prepare, fresh grated horseradish root is mixed with white vinegar in a desired manner to control (stabilize) its hotness.

To prepare horseradish, remove any leaves from the root and rinse the dirt off. Work in a well-ventilated room. Use a vegetable peeler to peel off the surface skin. Chop it into pieces, put it into a food processor, and add a tablespoon of water. Process until well ground. At this point, keep at arm’s length away, because ground fresh horseradish is many times as potent as freshly chopped onions and can hurt your eyes if you get too close. Add a tablespoon of white vinegar and a pinch of salt to the mixture. Pulse to combine. The vinegar will stabilize the level of hotness of the ground horseradish, so do not wait too long to add it to the mixture. Using a rubber spatula, carefully transfer the grated horseradish to a jar. It will keep for 3 to 4 weeks in the refrigerator. The preparation, however, gradually loses its flavor with time and turns off-white to brown color even if you keep it in the cold storage.

Use prepared horseradish in vegetable juice, cole slaw, baked beans, barbecue sauce, mashed potatoes, soup, steamed vegetables, pizza sauce, asparagus, or salad dressing. Fill celery stalks with a mixture of 1 cup mashed avocado and 2 teaspoons prepared horseradish; sprinkle with paprika, and chill.

Commercially prepared horseradish products are readily available in stores all around the year.


This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this website to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

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