Horseradish is a love it or hate it type of food. It is generally seen as a condiment and packaged as “prepared” probably most notable in cocktail sauce and Bloody Mary’s.
What Is Horseradish?
The horseradish we use is actually the fresh roots of the horseradish plant and comes from the mustard family. Another close relative is wasabi. The leaves of a horseradish plant are also edible, but not as widely used in the culinary realm.
The root is thick and white with a rough beige exterior. To me, it looks like a cross between a big piece of ginger and a parsnip. When used fresh, it is grated and usually suspended in white vinegar or brine, but it can also be dried, ground and powdered.
The grated root is a little stringy and chewy unless prepared correctly.
What Does Horseradish Taste Like?
I would describe it as a strong heat that brings tears to your eyes and burns your nose, but unlike spice from chiles, it only lasts for a short while and then you’ll be normal again.
It gives off a compound called isothiocyanate which gives off heat when ruptured, either by grating, cutting or chewing. Adding it immediately to vinegar helps to tame the heat for a milder and more palatable taste.
Adding prepared horseradish to cream based sauces like mayo, sour cream or actual whipped cream, will help to further neutralize the pungent taste.
The reason you don’t see fresh horseradish often is because it is challenging to work with. It is very hard to grate and generally requires a food processor instead of just a micro plane. Fumes build fast (think of the worst onion x100) after it hits air, so it needs to be added to other food (or vinegar fast).
Without being suspended in vinegar, it begins to spoil fast.
Many brands will also combine other flavors like fresh lemon or lemon juice, black pepper, white pepper, white wine vinegar or cider vinegar in the fresh root cuttings.
Horseradish also contains some volatile oils which can break down in the stomach. It sounds scary, but is really similar to mustard and doesn’t cause much issue to most if consumed in small amounts.
What Do You Use Horseradish In?
Beyond shrimp cocktail and prime rib, I think of a juicy roast beef sandwich and creamy horseradish sauce. It is also common in salad dressings and even some spicy mustard.
Storage & Freezing
Prepared horseradish can be kept in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 3 months after opening. Glass is preferably because the pungent flavors can permeate plastic and easily flavor other items nearby.
It can also be frozen. The raw root will start to go bad about 2 weeks after harvesting. Depending on what time you purchase it during this cycle, it might go bad within on day of bringing it home. There isn’t high turnover.
It is not recommended to freeze fresh horseradish root.