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:

* Buy only the amount you will use in a reasonable time.

* Keep in tightly covered jar in the refrigerator to protect freshness.

* Serve the desired amount of horseradish in a glass or ceramic bowl (it tarnishes silver), returning the tightly closed jar to the refrigerator immediately. Horseradish that remains unrefrigerated gradually loses flavor.