Horseradish Facts

Horseradish is a natural condiment that adds a distinctive, pungent flavor to foods. It is commonly used as a relish with meats and shellfish or as a tangy seasoning in sauces served with these foods. It also gives zest to appetizers, canapé, relishes, dips, spreads, salads, salad dressings, sauces, and gravies Some cooks use it generously to give a "hot" taste to food; others find that a small amount of horseradish is sufficient to impart a subtle, delightful flavor that turns an ordinary dish into an extra special one.


Horseradish is a member of the mustard family. Freshly grated horseradish root can be used much like garlic or fresh ginger as a wonderful piquant addition to a variety of sauces, dressings and marinades, but it is highly perishable. The root darkens and loses pungency shortly after grating if left dry, uncovered, and unrefrigerated. Silver Spring horseradish is naturally preserved with vinegar and salt, and sometimes cream, to bring this intriguing herb to you in a convenient form. Like the fresh root, bottled horseradish is hottest the day it is ground. The colder the product is kept, the longer it retains its bite and fresh flavor. Highest quality horseradish is always found in the refrigerated section of you local grocer.


The sharp and piquant flavor and the penetrating smell of horseradish become apparent when the root is grated or ground. This is because the root contains highly volatile oils which are released by enzyme activity when the root cells are crushed. If exposed to air or stored improperly, horseradish loses its pungency rapidly after grinding.


To keep prepared horseradish (commercial or home-made) at its flavorful best, store it in a tightly covered jar in the refrigerator or in the freezer. It will keep it good quality for about four to six months in the refrigerator and longer in the freezer. Fresh roots may be stored for several months if they are placed in polyethylene bags, and stored at 32 F. to 38 F.


Horseradish has nothing to do with horses and it is not a radish (it's a member of the mustard family). The name may have come from an English adaptation of its German name. In early times the plant grew wild in European coastal areas; the Germans called it "meerrettich," or "sea radish." The German word "meer" sounds like a "mare" in English. Perhaps "mareradish" eventually became "horseradish." The word "horseradish" first appeared in print in 1597 in John Gerarde's English herbal on medicinal plants.


If you like horseradish as hot as it can be, use fresh horseradish roots. A good quality root is clean, firm, and free from cuts and deep blemishes. The freshly peeled or sliced root and the prepared product are creamy white. Generally, the whiter the root, the fresher it is. When available, fresh roots will be found in the produce section. High quality commercial or home-processed horseradish has a creamy-white color, a pungent, penetrating aroma, and a hot biting taste. As processed horseradish ages, it darkens and loses its pungency; in time, off-flavors may develop. Plain or cream style prepared horseradish is usually found in the refrigerated dairy or meat cases of food stores. Horseradish products stored under refrigeration are more likely to be of higher quality than ones placed on regular shelves. Many sauces, dips, spreads, relishes, and dressings contain horseradish. These products are located in appropriate sections of the store. Some stores also carry dehydrated horseradish, which need not be refrigerated. Look for it in the spice or gourmet section.


Grind fresh horseradish in a well-ventilated room. The fumes from grinding are potent. Using a blender or food processor for grinding makes home preparation practical and less tearful. To Grate your own horseradish in a blender, wash and peel the root as you would a potato and dice it into small cubes. Place the cubes in the blender jar. Process no more than half a container load at a time. Add a small amount of cold water and crushed ice. Start with enough cold water to completely cover the blades of the blender. Add several crushed ice cubes. Put the cover on the blender before turning the blender on. If necessary, add more water or crushed ice to complete the grinding. When the mixture reaches the desired consistency, add white vinegar. Use 2 to 3 tablespoons of white vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon of salt of each cup of grated horseradish. If desired, lemon juice may be substituted for the vinegar to give a slightly different flavor.