From Dr. Mercola:
If it were wine, horseradish might be described as having an earthy, robust flavor, accompanied by an oddly sweet heat that warms you to your core. One taste and its intensity radiates not so much in your mouth as in your sinuses.
A cold-hardy plant, horseradish can be called a spring, fall or winter crop. Harvest by loosening the dirt around the plant with a digging fork (for minimal damage) before pulling out the roots. Cut off the tops and store them in a cool place until needed.
For ultimate freshness and heat, peel and grate for whatever dish or therapeutic use you may have.
As a condiment, horseradish is often prepared into a sauce to eat on prime rib or roast beef sandwiches. Some say it’s red when it’s used on shrimp (mixed with ketchup), and white when it’s spread on beef.
Either way, it adds a kick of both heat and flavor, but be aware that heat from your stove will diminish the heat in the horseradish. Grated into casseroles, salads, mashed potatoes, deviled or scrambled eggs, this root is a versatile attention-grabber that can light up any dish or beverage.
Referred to botanically as Cochlearia armoracia, horseradish was referenced in the Greek Delphic Oracle as being worth its weight in gold. Some early Greek healers, finding no Icy Hot in the bathroom cabinet, had the wisdom to use horseradish as a rub for low back pain.
While it has a long tradition to represent “bitter” in Jewish Seder meals, horseradish was also suggested as an aphrodisiac in both Egypt and Greece. You’ve probably figured out that horseradish has nothing to do with either horses or radishes. Maybe it’s a euphemism for radishes with a kick, which isn’t a bad metaphor.
Where Does the Heat Come From?
Horseradish is a perennial plant native to Russia, Europe and Western Asia, but today it’s grown across the globe. A member of the Brassicaceae family with cabbage, mustard and wasabi, the leaves and root have been recognized in the annals of medicine for thousands of years.
Incidentally, wasabi (Wasabia japonica) is a root plant from the same genus and native to Japan. The notoriously aromatic green condiment called “wasabi” requires horseradish, which is actually slightly hotter. Ironically, most of the wasabi sold in the U.S. is really just horseradish blended with dry mustard and food coloring.
Horseradish roots don’t have much of an odor until you cut into them. Nick the skin and you’ll get a powerful whiff of its unique, aromatic essence.
After it’s cut and allowed to rest for 20 minutes or so, the strong essence begins to abate, unlike the zest from a habanero pepper, which has a heat index comparable to that of horseradish.
However, the Scoville Scale,1 which typically measures the heat of peppers, is based on capsaicin content. In horseradish, it’s from allyl isothiocyanate.
However, allyl isothiocyanate (AITC) is much more than just a