My earliest memories of horseradish come from childhood and our annual Passover dinners. I remember Passover as my favorite holiday, probably because of the feast that was the highlight of the holiday. It was the only time of the year my entire family gathered in one place to celebrate with a special meal.
Starting perhaps in my teenage years, I have the distinct memory of eating small, thin pieces of horseradish root as part of the festive bitter-herb sandwich. Starting then and continuing into adulthood, I would think every year at Passover time, “wow, this horseradish is really good, I should eat it more often.” Then, the following week I would purchase a prepared horseradish product, or perhaps look for a fresh root at farmers markets, and inevitably would become disappointed in the overly vinegary product or was unable to find the fresh root. Eventually, I gave up trying to incorporate more horseradish into my life. Until now.
A few months ago, I learned about a farm north of Mt. Shasta in Northern California that is a dedicated organic horseradish farm. Their story is that the founder of the farm came here from Czechoslovakia decades ago with a horseradish root hidden in his coat pocket. This smuggled root grew into the current horseradish farm in the rich soils near the medicine-lake volcano. I bought a box of their freshly dug horseradish roots, laboriously peeled, steamed and dried them, and ground them into powder. The characteristic pungency and flavor of these marvelous roots survived intact, and now I have jars of horseradish powder in my cupboard, which I add to steaks, fish, stews and meatloaf (see the delicious recipe below).
Horseradish is a perennial vegetable of the brassicas family. It originates in the Mediterranean region and has been continuously cultivated for millennium. As anyone who has tasted horseradish knows, it has a strong pungency or bite, which is caused by its many sulfur-containing chemicals. Much like garlic, another food rich in sulfur-containing nutrients, horseradish is often paired with meat and fish dishes and has been used historically to preserve various meats.
The most important chemical component of horseradish is a type of glucosinolate called sinigrin, which has been documented to be an important anti-oxidant and detoxifying agent. Sinigrin has been shown to inhibit the formation of cancer cells and prevent the metastasis of already existing cancer cells. Furthermore, sinigrin supports both the phase I and II detoxification pathways in the liver.
Horseradish is also rich in iron and manganese. It contains fiber for intestinal health and aromatic substances that produce the easily observable flow of mucus that one experiences from eating fresh horseradish root. It is for this reason that horseradish has traditionally been used to help with sinus congestion and to support gastric secretions, thereby stimulating digestion and appetite.
Sprinkling our Horseradish Powder on steaks a few hours before cooking is a simple and natural way to tenderize your meat and add a burst of flavor. And now, finally, the intensity, flavor and nutritional value of horseradish is available year round.
Tom Cowan, M.D.