What is Horseradish?

The origins of horseradish are obscure. Native to Mediterranean lands, by the sixteenth century it was reported growing wild in Britain where it was referred to a “red cole”. Horseradish is one of the bitter herbs, eaten during the Jewish Passover as a reminder of the bitterness of their enslavement by the Egyptians. It has long been valued for its medicinal properties and is still popular with natural therapists to help relieve respiratory congestion.


Horseradish is a long, rough, tapering root, not unlike a parsnip, with rings, and tiny roots sprouting from the main root. Horseradish is sold fresh, but is more often available grated. Dried, flaked and powdered horseradish is also sold and this retains its pungency more fully than the grated form which is stored in vinegar.

The best fresh roots are thick and well grown; thin and insubstantial roots, apart from being hard to use, are inferior in pungency.

Japanese horseradish, or wasabi, is a pale green powder, similar in flavour to horseradish but made from the tuber of a herb, Wasabia japonica.

Bouquet: When intact, the root has little aroma. Once scraped or broken, it exudes a penetrating smell and is apt to irritate the nostrils, making the eyes stream even more than onions do.
Flavour: The taste is very strong, very hot and sharp.
Heat Scale: 5-7

Preparation and Storage

Fresh horseradish can be grated at home quite easily but the root should first be trimmed and scraped under running water to remove soil. Not much flavour lies in the central core, which is difficult to grate, and should be discarded. The whole root can be kept in the vegetable drawer of a refrigerator for a few weeks.

Grated horseradish may be kept in white vinegar or successfully frozen in a sealed container and used as required. Powdered horseradish is reconstituted by mixing with water but, like powdered mustard, remember to allow time for the full flavour to develop.

Culinary Uses of Horseradish

There are no half measures associated with horseradish: it is a potent gastric stimulant and is the perfect accompaniment for rich or rather fatty foods. The main use is in horseradish sauce. This is made most simply by mixing the grated root with sugar and vinegar to the desired consistency. However, cream, sour cream or wine is also a common base for this traditional English sauce to accompany roast beef, sometimes spices such as garlic, mustard and pepper are added. Albert sauce is a classic accompaniment to boiled or braised beef and is served hot.

As a sauce, horseradish also complements tongue, sausages, cold egg dishes, cheese, chicken and hot ham. It is good with fish and is often served with smoked trout. Mixed with yogurt it is a piquant topping to baked potatoes. Horseradish butter is excellent with grilled fish and meat.

In America, horseradish is a favourite flavouring in party dips. With grated apple it makes a sharp dressing for fish, and in tomato-based sauces, like “seafood sauce” for shrimp cocktails.

When served hot, horseradish loses its pungency and is quite mild. Wasabi is used in Japanese cookery in the fillings for sushi and as a dipping sauce to accompany raw fish. It is mixed to a paste in the same way as mustard and used similarly as a condiment.

Horseradish Substitutions

Fresh wasabi, a plant native to Japan with a thick green root, is rarely found in the United States. The green paste sold as wasabi in the U.S. is often an imitation made from strong domestic horseradish root and green food coloring. It makes a great substitute for regular horseradish. A spicy mustard will taste different but can provide a similar pungency, while freshly grated ginger root is a reasonable substitute in a less spicy dish.

Health Benefits of Horseradish

Richer in vitamin C than orange or lemon, horseradish is also a stimulant, diuretic, diaphoretic, rubefacient and antiseptic. Being a gastric stimulant, it is good with rich or fatty indigestible foods. In dropsy, it benefits the system by correcting imbalances in the digestive organs. Bruised horseradish was once used to soothe rheumatism, gout, swellings and chilblains. Infused in wine it becomes a general stimulant and causes perspiration.

The volatiles in horseradish have been shown to be antimicrobial against some organisms.Horseradish is a good expectorant, soothing for respiratory problems, and may help relieve rheumatism by stimulating blood flow to inflamed joints. Buy horseradish supplements here,

Growing Horseradish

Horseradish is a perennial, a member of the mustard and, curiously, the wallflower family. The plant has large, long leaves with pronounced pale veins. It grows best in cool to moderate climates, flourishing in Northern and South-eastern Europe and in Scandinavia. Horseradish is an invasive plant and, if you do not take care to limit its growth, it will take over like a weed. Because of its hardy and prolific nature, it thrives beyond cultivation, growing if the minutest root particle is left in the soil, and has become a horticultural pest. Root sections are planted in the spring and harvested in autumn. The tubers can be stored for the winter, in the same way as potatoes, in a covering of sand.

Other Names

Great Raifort, Horse Plant, Mountain Radish, Red cole

French: moutarde des Allemands, raifort
German: Meerrettich
Italian: rafano
Spanish: rábano picante

Scientific Name

Armoracia rusticana syn: Cochlearia armoracia, Armoracia lapathifolia
Fam: Cruciferae

Image by Filip Filipović from Pixabay