Radishes grow all over the world and come in many shapes and sizes. The classically red round radishes with leafy green tops to the gnarled brown root of horseradish, from the increasingly available watermelon radish (green on the outside, bright pink inside) to black Spanish radishes. And don't forget about the fairly common large and mellow-flavored, cream-colored daikon radishes. They're great raw in salads, but also can be cooked and roasted, and even used in kimchi.
What Are Radishes?
Radishes (Raphanus sativus) are edible root vegetables that are often round in shape but can also be more oblong or tapered. Like kale and broccoli, they are cruciferous vegetables in the brassica family. Radishes come in multiple varieties, all with some degree of a peppery bite. They are easy to grow, offer a quick harvest (sometimes in as quick as 30 days), and help keep away other garden pests. Radishes are found around the world and as a result, in various cuisines. They are not expensive and don't require much in the way of cleaning or prep since you can easily eat them raw.
How to Use Radishes
The classic red and French fingerling radishes are often served raw as part of a crudite platter with dips, or sliced thinly with salt and pepper, but any of them can be eaten raw. Serve these bright, crunchy delights all on their own, with a bit of butter and salt as the French like or sliced and tossed into salads. Radishes make a great fermented or pickled veggie because they are so crunchy. When roasted, radishes mellow and soften both in taste and consistency.
Radishes can also be used as a garnish, especially black and watermelon radishes. Black radishes also make tasty gratins and are delicious when roasted, which dramatically mellows their peppery bite. Daikon radishes more often than not are prime pickling candidates but are also really tasty when sliced very thinly and eaten raw. If you cook watermelon radishes, they lose their beautiful color and bright flavor, so keep those raw.
And if you've only ever had jarred horseradish, you need to give yourself a treat and try the real stuff. Bright, pungent, and without the bitter aftertaste sometimes found in jarred versions, fresh horseradish perks up any meal and is especially good with the heavier roasts and stews of cold-weather cooking, which works out nicely since it's harvested in the fall and stores well over the winter. (They also considerably liven up mashed potatoes.)
What Do They Taste Like?
All radishes offer a crisp and crunchy bite, and range in flavor from mild and slightly peppery to full-on spicy. This varies from type to type, but also sometimes even within varieties, there is a range, owing in part to weather, growing conditions, and other variables. In general, the globe-shaped daikons, red radishes, and French fingerlings tend to be milder; black radishes offer an intensely sharp peppery bite when raw.
It's not hard to find recipes that involve radishes, as many of them tend to be oriented toward salad, slaws, or even tacos. You can eat any of them raw, slice them thinly and eat them with salt and pepper, and pickle or roast them.
Where to Buy Radishes
Radishes are easy to find in most supermarkets, which will tend to carry the most common red ones and sometimes daikon radishes. Grocery stores with more robust produce departments will offer a range of several radishes. However, farmers markets are really the best place to find radishes. Radishes are one of the first veggies to pop up in spring, and farmers will often load up their tables with colorful varieties—that's where you're most likely to find the watermelon, horseradish, French fingerling, and black radishes, usually (but not always) with their greens attached.
If you find daikon radishes being sold with their greens still attached, grab them. Such freshly harvested daikon have a softer flavor and their greens are equally edible used as salads, added to a stir-fry, or tossed into soups. In Japan, braised daikon radish daikon no nimono is a popular dish.
Radishes store well in the refrigerator and, if purchased very fresh from a farmers market, can last a couple of weeks. Remove the greens, and store them unwashed in a plastic zip-close bag with a damp paper towel in the crisper drawer.
Of course, you can create longer storage/shelf life if you turn radishes into pickles, include them in a basic homemade sauerkraut or otherwise ferment them.
Nutrition and Benefits
Radishes contain small amounts of vitamins and minerals such as potassium, folate, vitamins A, C, K, calcium, and magnesium. One study, in particular, found that black radishes had four times the amount of glucosinolates, a compound that is protective against toxicity.
Round radish: These are what pop to most people's minds when they think "radish." The most common variety is red, but they also come in shades from white to pink to purple. When sold in a mixed bunch they are often marketed as "Easter egg radishes" for their resemblance to dyed Easter eggs.
Black radish (a.k.a. Spanish radishes): These have a truly black exterior that covers a snowy white flesh.
Chinese white radishes (daikon radishes): This variety is the most commonly available (and widely known) large radish.
French Breakfast radishes: These are slightly elongated versions of round radishes.
Horseradish: Yes, horseradish is, indeed, a type of radish.
Watermelon Radish: Named for their obvious resemblance to the fruit of the same name, watermelon radishes have a pretty reddish-pink interior and a green skin.
N'jai AU, Kemp MQ, Metzger BT, et al. Spanish black radish (Raphanus sativus L. Var. niger) diet enhances clearance of DMBA and diminishes toxic effects on bone marrow progenitor cells. Nutr Cancer. 2012;64(7):1038-48. doi:10.1080/01635581.2012.714831