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General Description: Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana), a member of the vast Brassica family, has a long, knobby, dusty, pungent root used as a condiment. Horseradish is believed to have originated in central Europe, the area where it is still most used. The word “horse” denotes large size and coarseness; “radish” comes from the Latin radix, meaning “root.” During the Renaissance, horseradish consumption rapidly spread from central Europe northward to Scandinavia and westward to England. By the late 1600s, horseradish was the standard accompaniment for beef and oysters for Englishmen. Commercial cultivation in America began in the mid-1850s, when immigrants started horseradish farms in the Midwest.

Horseradish roots are usually from 6 inches to 1 foot long with several rounded knobs at the root end. The skin is the color and texture of a scruffy, wrinkly, gnarled parsnip. It may have a green top. Horseradish has a hot, spicy, sinus-clearing bite that is almost absent until it is grated or ground. As the root cells are crushed, volatile oils are released. Vinegar stops this reaction and helps stabilize the flavor. Horseradish quickly loses its pungency after grinding. Fresh horseradish also loses flavor as it cooks, so it is best added toward the end of cooking.

Season: Horseradish is harvested in the early spring and late fall but is occasionally available year-round. Many American markets carry fresh horseradish root especially for the Jewish community, which uses it to make the “bitter herb” consumed as part of the ritual Seder plate for the Passover holiday in early spring.

Purchase: Look for a root that is exceptionally hard and free of spongy or soft spots.

Avoid: Sprouting, green-tinged horseradish may be bitter. Very large horseradish roots may be quite fibrous.

Storage: Wrap horseradish root in a slightly dampened towel and then a dry one. Keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Cut away any soft or moldy spots as they develop.


  1. Cut off as big a piece as needed.
  2. Pare off the outer skin.
  3. Grind or grate horseradish in a well-ventilated room, keeping your nose away from the fumes. You may want to wear gloves. Use a blender or food processor for grinding to make the process less tearful than hand grating, cutting into smaller pieces first.
  4. Either place immediately in cold water to cover or mix with vinegar or lemon juice to prevent discoloration.

Serving Suggestions: Add grated horseradish, salt, and lemon juice or vinegar to sour cream and serve with cold roast beef or asparagus. Serve with cold cuts sandwiches, or with gefilte fish. Make homemade cocktail sauce with ketchup or chili sauce and grated horseradish.

Flavor Affinities: Cream, gefilte fish, lemon, potatoes, raw seafood on the half shell, roast beef (cold or hot), vinegar.

from Quirk Books: