Horseradish is a perennial native to eastern Europe and western Asia, where it still grows wild in the steppes of Russia and the Ukraine. Its culinary use probably originated in Russia and eastern Europe, spreading to central Europe in the early Middle Ages, later to Scandinavia and western Europe. English settlers took it to North America, and cultivation was established by German and eastern European immigrants around 1850. By about 1860, bottled horseradish was available as one of the first convenience condiments.
About Taste: Horseradish root is very pungent and mustardlike when just grated, enough to make your eyes water and your nose run. The taste is acrid, sharp, and hot. The leaves are also pungent when crushed; the taste is sharp, but much milder than that of the root.
Parts Used: Fresh young leaves; fresh or dried roots.
Buying & Preserving: Fresh roots are in high demand particularly near Passover (horseradish is one of the 5 bitter herbs of the Seder). Fresh roots taken from the garden will preserve for months in dry sand, bought ones for 2–3 weeks in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, even after being minimize and partused. Grated horseradish can be frozen. Dried roots can be bought powdered or flaked.
Herb Gardening: Horseradish is propagated from root cuttings. It grows very easily in sandy loam soil with good drainage, but is invasive—the tiniest bit left in the soil will be enough to overrun a patch, so plant in a container, as one does mint. The roots can be lifted throughout the winter, if the ground isn’t frozen.
Freshly grated horseradish can be stabilized with just a little lemon juice. It is good on salads of potatoes or root greens, and aids in the digestion of oily fish. A traditional accompaniment to roast beef it also goes well with boiled beef. Scandinavian cooks add sliced horseradish, with onion, fresh ginger, and different spices, to some of their pickled herrings and make a rich horseradish and mustard sauce to accompany white fish. Horseradish is well made into a sauce by mixing it with cream and vinegar, or with sour cream alone, with or without sugar. A common Austrian condiment is apfelkren, made by mixing horseradish with grated apples and a little lemon juice. With apricot preserve and just a little mustard, horseradish makes a very good glaze for ham. Mixed with mustard into butter it’s good with corn-on-the-cob or carrots. A few tender, young leaves will give a nice, sharp taste to a green salad. Processed horseradish browns as it ages and loses its strength. Many condiments have too much added sugar, which masks the fresh and pungent taste.
Fresh root: Slicing a long, thick, furry, yellowish brown horseradish root reveals white flesh. Grating releases its highly pungent volatile oil, but this dissipates in a short time and doesn’t survive cooking.
Grated root: Sprinkle lemon juice on grated horseradish to preserve its white colour and pungency. Vinegar is used to prevent browning and loss of taste in commercial horseradish condiments.
Good with apple, baked ham, beets, avocado, beef, oily or smoked fish, pork sausages, potatoes, seafood. Combines well with capers, chives, celery, dill, cream, tomato paste, mustard, vinegar, yogurt.