If you are like me, you do not a lot about horseradish. Other than as a condiment that is served with roast beef, all most of us know is that a good one can really clean out the sinuses. For those who are not aware, any kind of natural strong flavour like this is just Mother Nature’s way of delivering some powerful health benefits. And since fall is the best time to find the freshest root vegetables, it is a great opportunity to get the best horseradish.
Horseradish, a 3000-year-old plant, is a member of the Brassicaceae family or what we often call the cruciferous vegetable family. This makes it a cousin of broccoli and cabbage as well as other strong-flavoured plants such as mustard and wasabi. Every part of the plant has benefits. The flowers can be made into a tea that can help fight the common cold. The leaves are a natural anagelsic and if pressed against the forehead, may help eliminate a headache. But it is the root that is a real star.
Like other members of the cruciferous vegetable family, horseradish contains phytonutrient compounds called glucosinolates which help the liver detoxify excess estrogen and carcinogens. These compounds have been discussed extensively in research, especially with regard to broccoli and cabbage. However, horseradish has ten times the amount of glucosinolates than the more commonly-known members of the family.
Researchers at the University of Illinois found that amount of glucosinolates in horseradish helps our bodies resist cancer. They found that, as well as detoxifying carcinogens, horseradish may help suppress the growth of tumors. They also discovered that processing the horseradish improved the anti-cancer benefits, which means that that you can still enjoy jar of your favorite horseradish and that cooking horseradish does not destroy its benefits.
In nature, the glucosinolates protects the plant from natural toxins. However, recent studies show that they may have the same potential to protect humans from toxic chemicals in our environment. Horseradish also contains an enzyme that helps glucosinolates break down into isothiocyanates and indoles which have the best cancer-protective potential.
From a digestive perspective, horseradish stimulates the stomach lining, enzymes, and other mucus-lined organs and is very helpful for an underactive stomach. It also helps promote the excretion of fluids from the kidneys and is a known laxative. It can help improve the respiratory passageway, nose, and throat and helps us sweat. It can also help the body fight bad bacteria and fungus. It is even recognized in Germany as an adjunct to the treatment of urinary tract infections. Historically, it was known as an aphrodisiac. At this point you might be thinking: what doesn’t it do? As the Delphic oracle said to Apollo “Horseradish is worth its weight in gold”
The isothiocyanates in horseradish give it its “hotness”. They oxidize when exposed to air and saliva to generate the heat. Grating the horseradish helps release the isothiocyanates, increasing its bite. Vinegar is often added to help stop this reaction and stabilize the heat and flavour.
I have eaten horsereadish straight by peeling the root and cutting off a thin slice. Chewing it like this is quite painful and nearly impossible when fresh like this but I have done it, despite the reaction to my poor old nose. It was recommended as a treatment for sinus headaches and it works. However, there are far tastier ways to use horseradish. It is easy to use by just grating it and adding to soups and stews, dressing for salads or dips. It also can be added as a flavouring just like garlic or onions to entres like burgers or casseroles. If you want to get the nutritional benefits I have discussed, then think outside the box. Try grating it into mustard or applesauce or any of your favourite condiments. The fresh root is easier to incorporate as bottled horseradish contains vinegar but if you like this, then feel free to add it to your hummus or other recipes where vinegar is also welcome.
For more tips about horseradish: Horseradish: A Fiery Root with a Funny Name
Typically, horseradish is made with white vinegar. This recipe uses apple cider vinegar to make the horseradish even more nutritious. Buying fresh horseradish should be as easy as going to your local grocery store. However, you may find as I did that while my local grocery store carries it, they did not have any when I went looking for it. Asian supermarkets are also a good place to look.
1 cup horseradish (about 8 inches of root), peeled, cut into 3-4 pieces
1 tbsp water
2 tbsp pure apple cider vinegar (adjust to taste)
Pinch sea salt
Some recipes call for sugar but they also usually call for a lot more vinegar. You can add more vinegar if you like (up to half a cup) and if you want to add some sweetener, use raw honey.
Place the ingredients in a food processor and process. Adjust the ingredients to taste as needed. Put the mixture in a glass jar with a lid and store in the refrigerator. Keeps indefinitely, thanks to the vinegar.
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