(Armoracia rusticana, A. lapthifolia, Cochleania amoracia— Family Cruciferae [Brassicaceae])
Horseradish, moutarde des Allemands (French)
The numerous botanical names designates the same plant, which often happens in the world of botany.
It is thought to be native of southern Russia and the eastern Ukraine, but now found throught the temperate climates worldwide.
The root is frost hardy and well-suited to storing, and is still of some importance in parts of Asia. It has been cultivated since classical times and probably carried to Europe by the Romans, who used it as a medicine, as well as a flavouring.
The name is old and came from a word meaning “hoarse” or “coarse” or “strong” from the French raifort, meaning “strong root”.
Horseradish is a perennial herb sometimes grown as an annual for its strong fleshy roots or for its ornamental value. The plant can grow to a height of five feet, with the leaves separately extending from the top of its whitish tan roots along with clusters of small white flowers.
It is a hardy plant able to regenerate from the smallest particle of root, sometimes making it an obnoxious weed as the thick, tapering roots can reach down two feet or more.
High in sulfur and potassium, the root is ground into a paste and used as a garnish. It is extremely sharp and hot, and a little goes a long way.
It is, however, rich in Vitamin C and calcium, but moderate in carbohydrates. The pungent taste of horseradish comes from a substance called sinigrin, which, when decomposed by the action of enzymes, liberates a volatile oil similar to mustard oil, containing the sulfur.
The release of these properties occurs only when the root is cut or bruised. An unbroken root will have no smell. Heat destroys the pungency, so horseradish is always eaten raw or just barely heated to add to a mild sauce.
Medicinally, horseradish has been used as a diaphoretic, digestive aid, diuretic, and a stimulant. Modern research has confirmed its antimicrobial activity against some microorganisms.
Horseradish has been used to staunch bleeding, prevent scarring, and cure stomach cramps. Its vapours have long been known to open up respiratory passages during colds. Some third world countries use it to purify their drinking water.
Horseradish is grown primarily for the processing industry, and only small quantities of the fresh root are available for sale. Although there are different varieties of horseradish, the only commercial classification is according to origin.
Wearing a protective mask by workers is absolutely essential during the processing of this root, which is mechanically washed before being delivered for further processing.
After undergoing a rough peeling process, followed by any necessary trimming, the roots are put into a grating drum and grated to a pulp. As it is broken up, mustard oils are released and cause tearing by irritating the mucus membranes.
The flavour is rather mild in the unprocessed yellow root, but becomes its strongest when freshly grated; but, if left, the flavour begins to evaporate. Therefore, it is vital that the freshly ground root be bottled immediately.
Wasabi, Japanese horseradish
(Eutrema wasabi – Family Cruciferae [Brassicaceae])
Wasabi is the Japanese version of the Western horseradish and known to have been cultivated for more than 1,000 years. It still grows wild on the islands of Japan, except on Hokkaido. It is cultivated almost exclusively on Honshu, generally over small areas, preferring terraced mountain watercourses. In the West, it is usually available only in powdered form. These rhizomes, and sometimes the leaf stalks, provide a hot condiment for Japanese dishes where it is grated raw or reconstituted in its dried form.
Horseradish tree, drumstick
sajuna and murungaikkai (Indian), malunggay (and other Philippine variations)
Moringa oleifera – Family Moringaceae)
This native Indian plant is not a relative of horseradish or in any way resembling drums, but both names were given to it by the British. T
he roots do strongly resemble the horseradish and are used in the same manner.
The tree is a curiosity, growing mainly in tropical Asia. It is also found in the West Indies, South America, and Florida. Since it is basically an Indian plant, it is cultivated primarily in Bengal and Assam.
This botanical family consists of a single genus from which it takes its name.
The cress-like leaves, flowers, and underripe fruits of this drought-resistant tree are used as vegetables. The roots contain mustard oils and, therefore, made into a condiment. This was probably the main reason for the name of horseradish tree. The rich oil from the seeds is also edible and used for industrial purposes.
The long bean-like fruits can reach lengths of six inches to more than three feet and are often referred to as “drumsticks”. These bean-like pods are long and green, with ridges, and taste like the real “horseradish”.
From the roots to the flowers, some useful purpose is derived from this tree. Traditionally, the pods are cut into sections and stewed in a spicy bean or lentil purée (dahl), and then fished out and eaten with the fingers.
Each piece must be pulled apart between the teeth like an artichoke to scrape off the soft, succulent pulp and tender seeds. Although there is a hint of artichoke flavour, the taste and texture are closer to that of puréed beans and okra.
For those less adventurous, the pods can be neatly cooked in a broth for tidier retrieval, and then added to other dishes.