What Is Horseradish?

Uses, Benefits, and Recipes

Fresh horseradish in a basket

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Horseradish packs a bite. It is most widely used as a condiment, both by itself and as an ingredient in sauces and dressings. You can enjoy the pungency of bottled prepared horseradish, or try it fresh to experience the full breath-taking flavor.

What Is Horseradish?

Horseradish is a root vegetable that is used as a spice and prepared condiment. It isn't actually a radish—it's a member of the mustard family and a cousin of broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts. The leaves are also edible. The grated root can be used fresh, or it can be dried or powdered. You will often find horseradish added to condiments such as mustard or mayonnaise to lend them an extra bite. Horseradish sauce may simply be grated horseradish in vinegar, or it can be a creamy version.

Origins

Horseradish is native to Russia and Hungary and has been grown throughout recorded history. Mentions of it are made in Greek mythology, Pliny's "Natural History," and Shakespeare. It can be grown in your garden as a perennial in hardiness zones 2 through 9. The root is harvested to use as culinary horseradish and offsets are replanted for the next year's crop.

What Is It Made Of?

You can buy fresh horseradish root, but for convenience, you can find bottled varieties. Prepared horseradish is grated horseradish root mixed with vinegar and salt. While it is a creamy white color, it is non-dairy and often labeled as kosher. You will see red varieties that have beet juice added. Bottled horseradish sauce is usually a mixture of mayonnaise and horseradish. It is milder than prepared horseradish.

What Does It Taste Like?

The volatile mustard-like oil in horseradish brings tears to the eyes and heat to the tongue. Isothiocyanate is the compound that gives off the heat when exposed by eating or crushing horseradish. Vinegar neutralizes the reaction and stabilizes the flavor. It should be added immediately to fresh grated horseradish to produce a milder taste.

Cooking With Horseradish

Horseradish is at its best and most flavorful when freshly grated. There are bottled varieties, but grating it on your own will be more pleasing for your palate. Horseradish can be grated by hand, but it is easiest with a food processor. Like mustard, the heat and fumes begin to rapidly deteriorate once the horseradish is cut or grated and exposed to air. In cooked dishes, horseradish is added at the end of cooking as heat eliminates both the root's aroma and zing.

Horseradish Recipes

Horseradish is versatile and can be used for meat and vegetable dishes. Fresh horseradish or a creamy horeradish sauce are often served as a condiment for steak or prime rib. Chrain, which is a beet and horseradish sauce, is the traditional accompaniment to gefilte fish. Add horseradish to make amazing deviled eggs, spicy potato salad, and a homemade mayonnaise that has a great kick. You'll also need prepared horseradish if you are going to make a bloody mary cocktail.

Where to Buy

Horseradish is available year-round in most places in the United States, but harvest season is in the spring. The fresh roots are usually sold in 2-inch long sections and can be found in the produce section. When buying horseradish roots, choose those that are firm, not soft. The roots should not show signs of mold or have green spots. Roots that appear dry or shriveled are not ideal, either.

Bottled prepared horseradish is readily available in the refrigerated condiment section of grocery stores. Horseradish sauce is found in the condiments section. Dried horseradish is also available in many markets.

How to Make Your Own Prepared Horseradish

To make a prepared horseradish to use as a condiment, you will need a food processor or blender, horseradish root, white vinegar, and salt. An airtight glass storage container is preferred if you are not going to use it immediately.

When making prepared horseradish, beware of the fumes which can burn your nose and eyes. To avoid that, open a window when you remove the lid and keep the mixture at an arm's length as you turn away. Some people even choose to process horseradish in the garage or another location that allows more airflow than the kitchen.

  1. Peel the horseradish root and cut it into cubes.

  2. In a blender or food processor, pulse the horseradish to your desired consistency. The finer the consistency, the more pungent the horseradish will be.

  3. Add vinegar and salt to taste. The longer you wait to add the vinegar, the hotter and stronger the horseradish will be. Don't wait too long or the horseradish will turn bitter.

  4. Store the prepared horseradish in the refrigerator for up to six weeks.

Storage

Store horseradish root unwashed in a plastic bag in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator. Use it within a week or two as the cut root will dry up. Freezing the unprocessed root is not recommended. Grated horseradish should be used within a few days, or can be frozen for up to six months. If you have added vinegar to the grated horseradish you can keep it up to six weeks in the refrigerator. Bottled prepared horseradish will last up to three months in the refrigerator. However, it quickly loses pungency and is best used within three to four weeks. It should be discarded when it turns dark. Freezing prepared horseradish is not recommended.