How to Prepare and Use Horseradish

What is Horseradish?
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Prepared horseradish is readily available at the grocery store, but wouldn’t it be fun to make your own? You just need to follow certain steps so you don’t have to suddenly run from the kitchen due to the pungent odor.

Prepared horseradish is a condiment made from the large, white root of the horseradish plant, which is in the same family as mustard and wasabi. While whole, the horseradish root does not have much of an odor; however, when grated, the strong, spicy aroma can be overwhelming and can actually burn the sinuses (which is why those who make commercial horseradish wear gas masks). As long as you take precautions, however, making your own prepared horseradish is a simple process.

Using Fresh Horseradish Root

To make your own prepared horseradish, you will need to purchase a whole horseradish root, which you should be able to find at your local supermarket. Although the flesh of the horseradish is white, the root is covered in a thin, brown skin. The roots are usually an inch or so in diameter and can be several inches long with a bulb-like end.

Before you start, make sure you open up some windows to create a source of ventilation; once you begin to cut into the horseradish root, the smell can take over. Cut off the ends and then remove the dark skin from the root, which can be done with a vegetable peeler. 

If you are going to use a hand grater, then you will want to cut the piece of horseradish in half lengthwise; if you plan on using a food processor, dice the horseradish root to make the processor’s job a bit easier. Grate the horseradish, processing or pulsing (scraping down the sides) until finely ground. (Be careful not to over-mix or else you’ll end up with a mushy paste.) Grating is when the pungent odor kicks into high gear, so be prepared!

The next step is to mix the grated horseradish with vinegar, which is what will preserve it and stop the horseradish from getting even spicier. The longer you let the grated horseradish sit, the more time it has to release its powerful flavor and smell, so if you actually want the horseradish to have more of a kick, wait a bit—but not too long—before adding the vinegar. Grated horseradish root will quickly turn bitter unless it is mixed with vinegar, but once prepared, horseradish can be stored in the refrigerator for several months.

Using Horseradish Powder

Since it's not always possible to get your hands on a fresh horseradish root, you can also make prepared horseradish using horseradish powder. Horseradish powder is a spice made by drying the root and then grinding it. Making prepared horseradish from the powder is simply a matter of combining it with water and vinegar or lemon juice.

But as with all powdered spices, it'll start to lose its oomph in a few months. If your grocery store has a bulk spice section, where you can buy as little or as much of a spice as you need, purchase it in a small amount so that it stays fresh.

Uses for Horseradish

Prepared horseradish can be used as a condiment, as an ingredient in sauces and salad dressings, and of course as a flavoring in a Bloody Mary. Russian dressing, one of the key ingredients in a delicious corned beef sandwich, is made with prepared horseradish, as is the traditional cocktail sauce often served with cold shrimp and raw shellfish. If you celebrate Passover or attend a Passover seder, you will find horseradish as a ubiquitous accompaniment to the traditional gefilte fish course.

It is important to note that prepared horseradish is not the same as horseradish sauce but is an ingredient in it. Horseradish sauce combines prepared horseradish with cream, sour cream, or mayonnaise, which makes it milder and creamier. Horseradish sauce is frequently served with roasted prime rib, or as a dressing for a roast beef sandwich.

A red (or more like purple) horseradish is also available store-bought, as well as simple to make. The color is from the addition of beets that not only give the condiment its vibrant hue but also make the horseradish a bit more mild tasting.