What is Horseradish?
The root is harvested in the spring and fall and sold in 1200 pound pallets to processors who grate the root releasing the volatile oils that distinguish horseradish from all other flavors. The ground horseradish is then mixed with distilled vinegar to stabilize the "heat." This basic formula, which varies from processor to processor, may also contain spices or other ingredients – salt, sugar, cream or vegetable oil. But, generally speaking, horseradish and vinegar are the primary constituents in the basic prepared horseradish on the market today.
In the United States, an estimated 24 million pounds of horseradish roots are ground and processed annually to produce approximately 6 million gallons of prepared horseradish.
In addition to the most popular basic prepared horseradish, a number of other horseradish products are available, including cream-style prepared horseradish, horseradish sauce, beet horseradish and dehydrated horseradish. Cocktail sauce, specialty mustards, and many other sauces, dips, spreads, relishes and dressings also may contain horseradish.
Each May, horseradish is feted at the International Horseradish Festival in Collinsville, Illinois. Events include a root toss, a horseradish-eating contest and a horseradish recipe contest. Begun in 1988, the festival was designed to create national awareness for the herb and the area where most of the world’s supply is grown, according to festival organizers. Collinsville and the surrounding area is part of what is known as the American bottoms, a Mississippi river basin area adjacent to St. Louis. Carved-out by the glaciers from the ice age, the soil is rich in potash, a nutrient on which the horseradish thrives. The area grows 60 percent of the world’s supply. German immigrants to the area began growing horseradish in the late 1800s and passed their growing methods from generation to generation. The area’s cold winters provide the required root dormancy and the long summers provide excellent growing conditions.
What Makes Horseradish Hot?
Horseradish is a member of the mustard family (sharing lineage with its gentler cousins, kale, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts and the common radish) and is cultivated for its thick, fleshy white roots.
The bite and aroma of the horseradish root are almost absent until it is grated or ground. During this process, as the root cells are crushed, volatile oils known as isothiocyanate are released. Vinegar stops this reaction and stabilizes the flavor. For milder horseradish, vinegar is added immediately.
Selecting Horseradish Products
Horseradish appears in a variety of products in the supermarket and specialty food shops: Basic prepared horseradish is the grated prepared horseradish root mixed with distilled vinegar. Spices or other ingredients may be added (such as salt, sugar, cream or vegetable oil) to enhance and protect flavor.
To relish the full flavor of processed horseradish, it must be fresh and of high quality. Color varies from white to creamy beige. As processed horseradish ages, it browns and loses potency. Replace with a fresh jar for full flavor enjoyment.
Varieties of prepared horseradish include Cream Style Prepared Horseradish, Horseradish Sauce, Beet Horseradish and Dehydrated Horseradish. Distinguishing characteristics may be ingredients or texture -- fine or coarse ground. The true horseradish enthusiast has several favorites, depending on the end use.
Cocktail sauce with prepared horseradish is another winner, and has many uses beyond its usual role, as a flavorful accompaniment for seafood.
Mustard with prepared horseradish also adds a rich and spicy zing to cold cuts or hot entrees.
To savor horseradish at its best:
To continue developing expertise in new and traditional culinary applications with leadership responsibilities in diverse mainstream menus, including but not limited to roast beef and seafood dishes. Goal: a top position on the tip of every American tongue.
Bachelor’s degree in culinary arts with major in condiment utilization. Master in roast beef and seafood sauces. Thesis: "BEYOND BEEF: An Exploration Into Innovative Horseradish Applications".
1500 B.C. to First Century -- Early training among Egyptians around time of the Exodus. Appointed one of the "five bitter herbs" Jews were told to eat at Passover (still part of this religious observance). Served internship with Early Greeks as a lower back rub and aphrodisiac.
1300 - 1600 A.D. -- Accepted lateral transfer out of Central Europe to cover territory in Scandinavia and England. Increased therapeutic responsibilities as a cough expectorant and treatment for food poisoning, scurvy, tuberculosis and colic.
1601 to 1700 -- Using a unique blend of medicinal and culinary skills, developed new market in England and Germany with the creation of "horseradish ale" (mixture of horseradish, wormwood and tansy) to revive the weary travelers. European chefs in research and development uncover synergistic bond between horseradish and meat or seafood. Moved operations overseas with early American settlers who introduced horseradish cultivation in the new colonies.
1840 to Present -- Continued to climb up condiment ladder with commercial cultivation launched by German immigrants in the Midwest, spawning a horseradish industry which today produces approximately six million gallons of prepared horseradish annually.
Industry implements new shipping, refrigeration and handling techniques to refine horseradish processing, leading to a greater variety of fresh, top-quality horseradish products prepared commercially. In response to growing supply of convenient flavorful horseradish, Americans all but abandon grating the root at home.
Central figure for public awareness campaign launched by the Horseradish Information Council, a group of horseradish processors working together to expand the appeal and usage of prepared horseradish and related products among Americans. Duties expand to include press relations and trade exhibitions, as exploration of American cuisine continues. Based on past successes with beef and seafood, develop similar culinary applications for poultry and fish. Extensive experience working with fruits and vegetables, dairy and cheese, pastas and rice. Meal time portfolio includes soups, appetizers, salads, side dishes and a host of entrees.
Delphic oracle speaking to Apollo: "The radish is worth its weight in lead, the beet its weight in silver, the horseradish its weight in gold."
James Beard describing a commercially prepared horseradish product sampled during his many travels: "The horseradish was pungent, hot to the palate as it should be and beautifully white."
Dagwood Bumstead bellowing to Blondie during one stormy comic strip: "My kingdom for some horseradish!"
Additional references and samples available upon request.