What is Horseradish?

FR: Cran, Cranson de Bretagne, Raifort GER: Kren (South Germany, Austria), Meerrettich IT: Kren, Rafano

SP: Rabano picante, Rabano rustico, most usually ‘horse radich’

BOT: Armoracia rusticana FAM: Cruciferae ILL: Plate 10, No. 4

The horseradish seems to have gone through a large number of different scientific names. blogs will give it as Armoracia lapathifolia and Cochloearia armoracia (which would put it among the scurvy-grasses) or Radicula armorcia and Rorippa armoracia (which would put it among the cresses). To add still further to the confusion, some authorities claim horseradish was used by the Greeks one thousand or more years before Christ and in England before the arrival of the Romans, but De Candolle (1806-1893), in L’Origine des Plantes Cultivees, lists horseradish amongst the species probably cultivated for less than two thousand years. My copy of the second edition of Gerard’s Herbal (1633) implies that although horseradish was then known in Britain as a condiment, it was ‘used in Germany’. The English preferred mustard.

Horseradish is native to eastern Europe and is commonly cultivated in northern countries, especially in north-east Europe. Being a tough plant which, once established, is difficult to eradicate, it has gone wild in parts of England and North America. On the other hand, it is little known in southern Europe. For instance, it is used in Italy from Turin to Venice, but rarely further south.

What is Horseradish? Photo Gallery

Although horseradish will grow anywhere except in badly-drained clay, in order to get good roots it is necessary to grow it properly on well-manured, not too heavy and well-drained land. It also prefers sun. Propagation is by planting sections of root, with or without bud. It is best to lift the roots in autumn, store them in damp sand or ashes and reserve sufficient for planting out the following spring.

Horseradish produces large dock-like green leaves and although the young leaves are good in salad, usually only the thick white roots are eaten. Roots have to be scrubbed clean of soil, and discoloured skin removed. Most of the pungency is found in the outer part of the root and not in the core. It may be prepared by fine grating or fine scraping with a sharp knife. This is tedious if the roots are thin and not well grown.

The flavour of horseradish is exceedingly pungent and apt to ‘run up the nose’. This is due to volatile essential oils similar to those in mustard and formed by the same enzyme mechanism (see Mustard). If horseradish is cooked, pungency is not formed, and it is not of much use putting grated horseradish into hot dishes, as the volatile oils will be driven off. In any case, it rapidly loses its pungency after grating.

Horseradish is used either alone or with grated apple as a garnish for fish; as a flavouring for mayonnaise for use with fish or in salads of chicken, tomato or eggs; and in other more elaborate preparations. Horseradish sauces possibly have their origin in Germany, but have been in the repertoire of Scandinavia, Britain and north-eastern France for long enough to be considered indigenous. Recipes usually but not always, contain vinegar and cream. Sometimes they are based on brown gravy, egg yolk and oil and hard-boiled egg yolk, also on white sauce. Occasionally these sauces are gently cooked or warmed, but more often they are uncooked. In France, they are usually more delicate, based on cream and lemon juice. In America there are recipes for iced horseradish sauces and dips.

In England today, horseradish sauce is popularly served only with roast beef, but it had a much wider use in the past. Horseradish goes well with fish, particularly fresh water fish and smoked fish, with chicken and boiled fowl and with hard-boiled eggs.

Horseradish is also used to produce horseradish vinegar – by maceration – and there are old English recipes for horseradish pickle in which pieces of the root are preserved in vinegar. Horseradish may also be cut in slices and dried in a very gentle oven. It can then be pounded and bottled. Good commercial dried horseradish, particularly from Sweden and the United States, is available. It retains its pungency and is much better than the revolting bottled horseradish sauces or half-preserved grated horseradish as sold in some markets.

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