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Horseradish

Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana, syn. Cochlearia armoracia) is a perennial plant of the Brassicaceae family, which also includes mustard, wasabi, broccoli, and cabbages.

The plant is probably native to southeastern Europe and western Asia, but is popular around the world today. It grows up to five foot tall and is mainly cultivated for its large white, tapered root.

The intact horseradish root has hardly any aroma. When cut or grated, however, enzymes from the damaged plant cells break down sinigrin (a glucosinolate) to produce allyl isothiocyanate (mustard oil), which irritates the sinuses and eyes.

Once grated, if not used immediately or mixed in vinegar, the root darkens and loses its pungency and becomes unpleasantly bitter when exposed to air and heat.

History
Horseradish has been cultivated since antiquity. According to Greek mythology, the Delphic Oracle told Apollo that the horseradish was worth its weight in gold. Horseradish was known in Egypt in 1500 BC. Dioscorides listed horseradish under Thlaspi or Persicon; Cato discusses the plant in his treatises on agriculture, and a mural in Pompeii showing the plant has survived until today.

Horseradish is probably the plant mentioned by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History under the name of Amoracia, and recommended by him for its medicinal qualities, and possibly the Wild Radish, or raphanos agrios of the Greeks. The early Renaissance herbalists Pietro Andrea Mattioli and John Gerard showed it under Raphanus.

Both root and leaves were used as a medicine during the Middle Ages and the root was used as a condiment on meats in Germany, Scandinavia, and Britain. It was taken to North America during Colonial times.

William Turner mentions horseradish as Red Cole in his "Herbal" (1551-1568), but not as a condiment. In "The Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes" (1597), John Gerard describes it under the name of raphanus rusticanus, stating that it occurs wild in several parts of England. After referring to its medicinal uses, he says: "the Horse Radish stamped with a little vinegar put thereto, is commonly used among the Germans for sauce to eat fish with and such like meates as we do mustarde."

Where the English name horseradish comes from is not certain. It may derive by misinterpretation of the German Meerrettich as mare radish. Some think it is because of the coarseness of the root. In Europe the common version is that it refers to the old method of processing the root called "hoofing". Horses were used to stamp the root tender before grating it.

Cooking Uses
Cooks use the terms "horseradish" or "prepared horseradish" to refer to the grated root of the horseradish plant mixed with vinegar. Prepared horseradish is white to creamy-beige in color. It will keep for months refrigerated but eventually will start to darken, indicating it is losing flavor and should be replaced. The leaves of the plant, while edible, are not commonly eaten, and are referred to as "horseradish greens".

Horseradish sauce made from grated horseradish root, vinegar and cream is a popular condiment in the United Kingdom. It is usually served with roast beef, often as part of a traditional Sunday roast, but can be used in a number of other dishes also, including sandwiches or salads. Also popular in the UK is Tewkesbury mustard, a blend of mustard and grated horseradish originally created in medieval times and mentioned by Shakespeare (Falstaff says: "his wit's as thick as Tewkesbury Mustard" in Henry IV Part II).

In the U.S., the term Horseradish Sauce refers to grated horseradish combined with mayonnaise or Miracle Whip salad dressing (such as Arby's "Horsey Sauce"). Kraft Foods and other large condiment manufacturers sell this type of Horseradish Sauce.

In the USA, prepared horseradish is a common ingredient in Bloody Mary cocktails and in cocktail sauce, and is used as a sauce or spread on meat, chicken, and fish, and in sandwiches. The American fast-food restaurant chain Arby's uses horseradish in its "Horsey Sauce", which it offers as a regular condiment, alongside ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise; this is not a common practice among its major competitors.

In Middle and Eastern Europe horseradish is called khreyn (in various spellings) in many Slavic languages, in German in Austria and parts of Germany, and in Yiddish. There are two varieties of khreyn. "Red" khreyn is mixed with red beet (beetroot) and "white" khreyn contains no beet. It is popular in Ukraine (under the name of хрін, khrin), in Poland (under the name of chrzan), in Russia (хрен, khren), in Hungary (torma), in Romania (hrean), and in Bulgaria (хрян, khryan). Having this on the Easter table is a part of Christian Easter and Jewish Passover tradition in Eastern and Central Europe.

A variety with red beet is called ćwikła z chrzanem or simply ćwikła in Poland. In Ashkanazi European Jewish cooking beet horseradish is commonly served with Gefilte fish. Red beet with horseradish is also used as a salad served with lamb dishes at Easter called 'sfecla cu hrean' in Transylvania and other Romanian regions. Horseradish (often grated and mixed with cream, hard-boiled eggs, or apples) is also a traditional Easter dish in Slovenia and in the adjacent Italian region of Friuli Venezia Giulia.

In Croatia freshly grated horseradish is often eaten with boiled ham or beef. In Serbia ren is an essential condiment with cooked meat and freshly roasted piglets.

Horseradish is also used as a main ingredient for soups. In the Polish region of Silesia, horseradish soup is a common Easter Day dish.

Even in Japan, horseradish dyed green is often substituted for the more expensive wasabi traditionally served with sushi. The Japanese botanical name for horseradish is seiyōwasabi or "Western wasabi".

Horseradish contains two glucosinolates, sinigrin and gluconasturtiin, which are responsible for its pungent taste.

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