More aromatic than onions and more potent on the tongue, horseradish is a much-appreciated spice! In the U.S. alone, about 24 million pounds of horseradish root are ground each year to produce about six million gallons of prepared horseradish!
Botanical name: Armoracia rusticana
A leafy perennial with a large, thick, fleshy taproot, horseradish is a member of the mustard, radish, and wasabi family. (Wasabi is the Japanese equivalent of horseradish.) While its botanical name is Armoracia rusticana, its English name means "coarse (or big) radish." A very hardy root with rampant seeds, it can also be found growing wild. Allylisothiocyanate or mustard oil, the chief constituent of horseradish is responsible for the pungency of the herb. With its powerfully pungent aroma and strong, hot, flavor, horseradish is unmistakable. You'll find the root in many condiments and sauces, in ethnic --Russian, German, and Middle Eastern--as well as American fare. An ancient plant, horseradish was used by the Egyptians and Greeks as a medicine and as an aphrodisiac. Apollo is reputed to have heard from the Delphic oracle; "The radish is worth its weight in lead. The beet its weight in silver, the horseradish its weight in gold."
Medieval sailors used horseradish to prevent scurvy (thanks to its high vitamin C content), and the herbalist Gerard talks about it in his 1597 Herbal. The English and Germans have used horseradish in ales and with chicken, meat, and seafood since the 1600s. The British, in fact, often relied upon horseradish to aid in the digestion of meat. The Dutch ate the leaves as a vegetable and used the root medicinally. Horseradish is also one of the five bitter herbs eaten by Jews at Passover.
Directions: Powdered horseradish (the dried and ground root) can be reconstituted with water or sprinkled into foods that have enough liquid to reconstitute the spice. You can even sprinkle it like any other spice into dressings, sour cream, sauces, etc. Horseradish isn't aromatic until it's been cut or crushed--then watch out. Adding vinegar to the root stabilizes the flavor after crushing, though, so to tone down its bite, add vinegar early on in your recipes.
A popular condiment--especially among German, Russian and Middle Eastern cooks-- for fish and meat, horseradish is considered the perfect accompaniment for rich or fatty foods, like beef, steaks and venison or strong fish. Try it with any meat, seafood, poultry, soups, pasta and dressings (especially vinaigrettes). Serve it in zingy mustards, spreads, relishes, dips and sauces to serve over vegetables (asparagus, in particular). Mix it into potato or cucumber salad, coleslaw, mashed potatoes, sour cream, or tomato juice. In Austria, horseradish is often mixed with sour, grated apples for use as a relish to serve with meat. It's also a traditional ingredient in British Yorkshire pudding and in the drink Bloody Mary.
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