Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana, syn.
Cochlearia armoracia) is a perennial plant of the Brassicaceae
family, which also includes mustard, wasabi, broccoli, and
The plant is probably native to southeastern Europe
and western Asia, but is popular around the world today. It
grows up to five foot tall and is mainly cultivated for its
large white, tapered root.
The intact horseradish root has
hardly any aroma. When cut or grated, however, enzymes from the
damaged plant cells break down sinigrin (a glucosinolate) to
produce allyl isothiocyanate (mustard oil), which irritates the
sinuses and eyes.
Once grated, if not used immediately or mixed
in vinegar, the root darkens and loses its pungency and becomes
unpleasantly bitter when exposed to air and heat.
Horseradish has been cultivated since antiquity. According to
Greek mythology, the Delphic Oracle told Apollo that the
horseradish was worth its weight in gold. Horseradish was known
in Egypt in 1500 BC. Dioscorides listed horseradish under
Thlaspi or Persicon; Cato discusses the plant in his treatises
on agriculture, and a mural in Pompeii showing the plant has
survived until today.
Horseradish is probably the plant
mentioned by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History under the
name of Amoracia, and recommended by him for its medicinal
qualities, and possibly the Wild Radish, or raphanos agrios of
the Greeks. The early Renaissance herbalists Pietro Andrea
Mattioli and John Gerard showed it under Raphanus.
and leaves were used as a medicine during the Middle Ages and
the root was used as a condiment on meats in Germany,
Scandinavia, and Britain. It was taken to North America during
William Turner mentions horseradish as Red
Cole in his "Herbal" (1551-1568), but not as a condiment. In
"The Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes" (1597), John
Gerard describes it under the name of raphanus rusticanus,
stating that it occurs wild in several parts of England. After
referring to its medicinal uses, he says: "the Horse Radish
stamped with a little vinegar put thereto, is commonly used
among the Germans for sauce to eat fish with and such like
meates as we do mustarde."
Where the English name horseradish
comes from is not certain. It may derive by misinterpretation of
the German Meerrettich as mare radish. Some think it is because
of the coarseness of the root. In Europe the common version is
that it refers to the old method of processing the root called
"hoofing". Horses were used to stamp the root tender before
Cooks use the terms "horseradish"
or "prepared horseradish" to refer to the grated root of the
horseradish plant mixed with vinegar. Prepared horseradish is
white to creamy-beige in color. It will keep for months
refrigerated but eventually will start to darken, indicating it
is losing flavor and should be replaced. The leaves of the
plant, while edible, are not commonly eaten, and are referred to
as "horseradish greens".
Horseradish sauce made from grated
horseradish root, vinegar and cream is a popular condiment in
the United Kingdom. It is usually served with roast beef, often
as part of a traditional Sunday roast, but can be used in a
number of other dishes also, including sandwiches or salads.
Also popular in the UK is Tewkesbury mustard, a blend of mustard
and grated horseradish originally created in medieval times and
mentioned by Shakespeare (Falstaff says: "his wit's as thick as
Tewkesbury Mustard" in Henry IV Part II).
In the U.S., the
term Horseradish Sauce refers to grated horseradish combined
with mayonnaise or Miracle Whip salad dressing (such as Arby's
"Horsey Sauce"). Kraft Foods and other large condiment
manufacturers sell this type of Horseradish Sauce.
USA, prepared horseradish is a common ingredient in Bloody Mary
cocktails and in cocktail sauce, and is used as a sauce or
spread on meat, chicken, and fish, and in sandwiches. The
American fast-food restaurant chain Arby's uses horseradish in
its "Horsey Sauce", which it offers as a regular condiment,
alongside ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise; this is not a common
practice among its major competitors.
In Middle and Eastern
Europe horseradish is called khreyn (in various spellings) in
many Slavic languages, in German in Austria and parts of
Germany, and in Yiddish. There are two varieties of khreyn.
"Red" khreyn is mixed with red beet (beetroot) and "white"
khreyn contains no beet. It is popular in Ukraine (under the
name of хрін, khrin), in Poland (under the name of chrzan), in
Russia (хрен, khren), in Hungary (torma), in Romania (hrean),
and in Bulgaria (хрян, khryan). Having this on the Easter table
is a part of Christian Easter and Jewish Passover tradition in
Eastern and Central Europe.
A variety with red beet is called ćwikła z chrzanem or simply ćwikła in Poland. In Ashkanazi
European Jewish cooking beet horseradish is commonly served with
Gefilte fish. Red beet with horseradish is also used as a salad
served with lamb dishes at Easter called 'sfecla cu hrean' in
Transylvania and other Romanian regions. Horseradish (often
grated and mixed with cream, hard-boiled eggs, or apples) is
also a traditional Easter dish in Slovenia and in the adjacent
Italian region of Friuli Venezia Giulia.
In Croatia freshly
grated horseradish is often eaten with boiled ham or beef. In
Serbia ren is an essential condiment with cooked meat and
freshly roasted piglets.
Horseradish is also used as a main
ingredient for soups. In the Polish region of Silesia,
horseradish soup is a common Easter Day dish.
Even in Japan,
horseradish dyed green is often substituted for the more
expensive wasabi traditionally served with sushi. The Japanese
botanical name for horseradish is seiyōwasabi or "Western
Horseradish contains two glucosinolates, sinigrin
and gluconasturtiin, which are responsible for its pungent
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