Horseradish: The Fire and the Delight

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By Tricia Grissom


Grilled Beef with Festive Salad Delight
Sea-Horse Whip
Horseradish “Pate”
Raz-Radish Spread

Horseradish is not for the faint-hearted or sensitive-nosed. I learned this when I attended the International Horseradish Festival in Collinsville, Illinois last summer. The opening ceremony included a ritual tasting of raw horseradish by the organizers. Do not try this at home. On its own, horseradish is like a pistol whip to the face. This showed clearly in the tasting of it: eyes water, nose twitches, tongue tingles, fingers wrinkle, ears burn. The impression is lasting.


Horseradish Products


It’s only taken 20,000 years to create the perfect place to grow horseradish. What’s the recipe? Take one slow moving glacier from 23,000 B.C., add cold winters, long summers and potash rich soil, and you get the American Bottoms of southern Illinois. This area grows 80 percent of the world’s tongue-tingling root, used for everything from cocktail sauce to your favorite Bloody Mary mix.

The small town festival takes full advantage of its unforgettable qualities in its recipe contest. Creating a recipe featuring the root is a tricky thing. It’s easy to let horseradish overwhelm foods or fade like a wallflower into the background. As a judge for the contest, I had to determine which recipe best featured its flavor. The winning recipes had a pitch-perfect balance between the root’s taste and other ingredient flavors. Several recipes were like an experienced tightrope walker; they got to the other side without a hitch.
Horseradish Roots
It helped that contestants made smart choices: pork tenderloin, beef, raspberries, cream cheese, and shrimp. Any one of these foods and horseradish make a great couple. The best recipes had a little sweetness to compensate for the astringent quality of the root. And when it’s right, mmmmm. Like an enthusiastic dancer, horseradish can whirl you at dizzying speeds on a sandwich, waltz you silkily through your prime rib, or whip you through a jazzy jambalaya number. It adds passion to food.

One highlight of the festival is a Bloody Mary contest. After the winner is announced, recipe leftovers are poured into the cups of waiting festival goers. The line was long and enthusiastic for sampling the contest mixes. Hurricanes Bar and Grill had a Bloody Mary booth at the festival, where the drinks were served complete with an olive and large dill pickle. Other festival-goers seemed to like it but I was skeptical. The pickle seemed suspect, the olive, over the top. But after my first sip, I was sold. The pickle’s saltiness combined sublimely with the tomato juice, punched up by the root’s spiciness and a hint of olive.

Horseradish Roots

The festival picks up on horseradish’s playful quality in a series of sporting events. The Horseradish Derby includes a root toss, root golf, and root sacking. Horseradish shards flew as golfers teed off and hurlers slung the roots far and wide. This year Long John Silver’s Pirate faced off against A&W Rootbeer’s Bear mascot for a celebrity root sacking contest. The bear was the clear winner. The last day hosted a pinewood-style derby with sculpted horseradish roots on tiny car chassis. The horseradish mouse was a fierce competitor. A root that’s aerodynamic and tinglingly tasty? You can’t beat that.

The organizers of the festival want people to know horseradish is also serious business. Education about the root is a major part of the festival, and booths are set up to show all stages of crop production. The Collinsville History Museum hosts a special horseradish history display for the festival.

Brought to Collinsville by Dutch and German immigrants, the root has been farmed by families for generations. Automation has made the crop’s production easier, but it still requires significant hand labor. Weeding is done by hand, as is harvesting in the spring and fall. The small roots dangling at the bottom of a harvested horseradish root are the “set” or seedlings for next year’s horseradish crop. They must be removed by hand to prevent damage. They are then stored at 28 degrees in high-tech, refrigerated barns from harvest time until spring planting.

The green horseradish tops are cut and discarded. The finished root resembles a parsnip on steroids and is deceptively innocent-looking, given its fiery propensities. In fact, until you crush it to release the heat, it isn’t hot at all. Grinding crushes the root’s cells, releasing
isothiocyanates that make it spicy.

While it might be difficult to grow in large quantities, horseradish isn’t hard for home growers to produce. If you want to raise your own horseradish, and sell roots and provide instructions for planting. The plant is a perennial from Nebraska to Texas (zones 5-9) and can be grown as an annual elsewhere. If your winters are cold, your soil rich, and you have a sunny spot, it will grow. More sun means faster growth, and using a deep container like a barrel will make you a proficient horseradish farmer.

If you’d like to make your own, look for fresh roots in upscale supermarkets and some farmers markets. The southern Illinois farm of the J.R. Kelly Company sells roots online at But be sure you want to try this at home. Making horseradish is not for sensitive noses. They didn’t nickname it “stingnose” for nothing. Open all of the windows, turn on the bathroom vents, set up some fans and invite over some enemies. The fumes can’t literally ignite flames in your nasal cavities, but it sure feels possible. That’s why grinding demonstrations at the festival are done out in open air.

A good old-fashioned blender or new fangled food processor is all it takes to prepare horseradish. Just wash, peel and dice the roots; small cubes make for easier grinding. Put the root cubes in a blender or food processor with a small amount of cold water, just enough to cover the blades. Don’t fill the container more than half-way or the EPA might come knocking on your door with a haz mat squad. The finer you grind the horseradish, the hotter it will be.

Preparing Horseradish

Vinegar or lemon juice will stop the fiery chemical reaction and stabilize hotness once the desired level is achieved. The sooner the vinegar is added, the milder the flavor. If you like it hot, wait two or three minutes for that kick-down-the-door-to-your-sinuses flavor. Generally two or three tablespoons of vinegar per cup of horseradish does the trick. So how hot is it? There is no Scoville scale for horseradish, but claims the root is hotter than its cousin wasabi and easier and faster to grow.

Some people like to add salt, sugar, and cream, but vinegar and horseradish are the purist’s preference. Keep the mixture refrigerated in tightly lidded jars to preserve flavor. Fresh horseradish is white or cream colored. When horseradish turns brown, it’s lost its mojo, so about six months is the maximum you want to store it in the fridge. Freezing it can extend storage time several months.

The root is a member of the mustard family, but a definite black sheep of the clan. The name horseradish may come from a mistranslation of the German word “meerrettich” (sea radish). Mispronounced by English speakers to “mareradish,” mare may have become synonymous with horse, giving us horseradish.

While it seduces with its earthy fire in food, horseradish has also been used for medicinal purposes. Once used to treat coughs, food poisoning, scurvy, colic, and tuberculosis, it’s still touted as a headache remedy. The root was once thought to be an aphrodisiac, but it’s more likely to turn on your tear ducts than anything else. It definitely clears out the nasal passages.

New water treatment experiments show that enzymes in the root can remove toxins from water and kill some strains of bacteria. T And at 6 calories per tablespoon and no fat, it’s great for people looking to add zest, but not calories, to a roast beef sandwich.

Now, the history of horseradish is coming full circle. Early on, the ancients understood the root’s value. The oracle of Delphi was such a fan, she pronounced it worth its weight in gold. The ancient Greeks used it as far back as 1500 B.C., and it’s still part of the Jewish Passover tradition as a bitter herb. In modern times, Dagwood Bumstead has been the biggest celebrity endorser of horseradish. He doesn’t consider one of his famously stacked sandwiches complete without it. But somewhere along the way, the root got lost amongst the impressive array of spicy foods we can access in our global community.

Now that the festival is garnering attention, hopefully it can take its rightful place in the hot flavorings repertoire of cooks everywhere. Mark Badascha said, “Attendance at the festival varies between 15,000 to 20,000 a year, depending on weather.” But that will probably change next year. “The Travel Channel is here filming for their Taste of America show,” he reports. Thanks to the festival, horseradish is finally getting the attention it deserves.

Buy Your Own

I prefer my horseradish the non-toxic way–purchased from the store. Some great products that help you relish the root’s flavor include:
Emeril’s Kicked Up Horseradish Mustard at
Terrapin Ridge’s Cranberry Horseradish Squeeze or Sweet Beet and Horseradish Mustard at
Braswell’s of Georgia Zesty Horseradish Jelly at

Grilled Beef with Festive Salad Delight

This first place winner in the horseradish recipe contest strikes the right balance between spicy, sweet, and savory. Horseradish goes well with beef, and this fresh summer recipe is no exception. Horseradish sauce is usually a mix of the root with cream, sour cream or mayonnaise along with other spices. You can buy it at any well-stocked grocery store. The recipe comes from contestant SomPit Daniels. This isn’t the first win for her in the contest, and this recipe shows why.
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup cucumber, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup yellow zucchini, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons chopped baby carrot
2 tablespoons chopped red onion
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 pound boneless sirloin steak
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
2 tablespoons horseradish sauce
6 miniature pita breads cut in half (microwave for 5 seconds if needed)

In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, vinegar, salt and pepper and stir well. Add all of the vegetables and cilantro and stir to combine. Cover and set aside until serving time.

Grill the beef over medium high heat until it’s cooked to your liking, with a slight charcoal burn on the beef. Cut the beef into small bite-sized pieces or thin slices and set aside.

In a small sauce bowl, add prepared horseradish and horseradish sauce together and stir to combine. Spread approximately 1 teaspoon of the horseradish sauce mixture into the pocket of the pita bread. Add approximately some of the festive salad mixture and arrange the beef over the salad mixture. Top with a little more festive salad mixture.

Repeat steps with the remaining ingredients. Serve immediately.
Yield: 6 servings.
Heat: Mild to Medium

Sea-Horse Whip

This trio of spreads took second place for Lucy Grondahl in the recipe contest. It’s an
hors d’oeuvre lover’s dream. The original presentation rested a scoop of each mixture on bread sticks, but crackers seem the better vehicle to get these zesty spreads from plate to palate. Prepared horseradish is a mixture of chopped horseradish, vinegar, salt and sugar that’s available at your grocery store. I couldn’t stop eating the Raz-radish Spread.

1 (8-ounce) block cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
2 tablespoons of horseradish
1/2 (7-ounce) package shredded surimi(fake crab)
1/2 (4-ounce) package frozen cooked salad shrimp (thawed)
1/2 teaspoon green Tabasco
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 bunches chopped green onions (reserve 2 tablespoons for garnish)

Blend all ingredients in a medium bowl (except reserved green onions). Serve in a bowl and top with the reserved 1/8 cup chopped green onions. Serve it with crackers.
Yield: about 2 1/2 cups
Heat: Mild to Medium

Horseradish “Pate”

1 pound bacon
2 medium white onions, minced (reserve 2 tablespoons)
1/4 cup of prepared horseradish (reserve 1/2 tablespoon)
1 clove of garlic, minced
4 ounces Braunschweiger
1 (8-ounce) block cream cheese

Fry the bacon in a large skillet and then remove it to a plate to cool. Drain the excess bacon grease from the skillet.

Add the minced onion and garlic to the skillet and cook until softened.

Crumble the bacon and add it to a mixing bowl. Add the onion, garlic, cream cheese, braunschweiger and horseradish (remember to reserve 1/2 tablespoon horseradish) to the bowl. Transfer the mixture to a serving dish.

Sprinkle the pate with the reserved horseradish and onion. Serve with crackers.
Yield: about 3 cups
Heat: Medium

Raz-Radish Spread

1/2 bag frozen raspberries, thawed (reserve 1/8 cup)
2 (8-ounce) blocks of cream cheese
3 tablespoons sugar (reserve 1/2 tablespoon)
3 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1/4-teaspoon salt
In a large bowl, blend all of the ingredients except the 1/8 cup reserved raspberries and 1/2 tablespoon reserved sugar. Mix the reserved 1/2 tablespoon of sugar with the reserved 1/8 cup raspberries. Place the spread in a medium size serving bowl and top it with the sugar-raspberry mixture. Serve with crackers.
Yield: about 2 1/2 cups.
Heat: Mild



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