Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana, syn. Cochlearia armoracia) is perennial herb within the Brassicaceae family (which includes mustard and wassabi, but also broccoli, cabbage, and Brussel sprouts).
According to Horseradish Information Council, horseradish has been prized for its medicinal and gastronomic qualities for centuries. We know that Egyptians knew about horseradish as far back as 1500 BC and that in early Greece it was used as a rub for lower back pain—as well as as an aphrodisiac. Since then, others have used it in cough expectorants and to treat many ailments including rheumatism and tuberculosis. It is still used as the bitter herb of Passover seders.
In the Western world, horseradish cultivation and use is believed to have originated in Central Europe. During the Renaissance, cultivation and use moved from Central Europe to Scandinavia and England. Records show the British began consuming horseradish in the mid-1600s. By the late 1600s, it had become a common condiment there and owners of inns and coach stations used it to make a cordial to revive exhausted travelers.
Horseradish is a perennial in hardiness zones 2–9; it can be grown as an annual in other zones. It grows up to 5-feet tall. Once started in a backyard garden, if left in as a perennial, it can become invasive and difficult to remove. Old roots are “woody” and no longer good to eat.
Horseradish came to North America with early settlers and by the early 1800s was commonly cultivating by gardeners in the colonies. Commercial cultivation began in the 1850s in the Midwest; by the end of the century a thriving horseradish industry had developed in the fertile "American Bottoms" region, along the Illinois side of the Mississippi River. This is the region where Saw Mill Site Farm gets it's #1 US-grown horseradish roots today.
The farmers we get it from treat horseradish as an annual. When the first frost in the autumn kills off the plant’s leaves, the root is dug and divided. The main root is harvested; large offshoots of the main root are replanted to produce the next year’s crop.
1. Where is horseradish grown commercially?
In North America, about 66% of the commercial horseradish root is grown in Southwestern Illinois on land known as the American Bottoms near the Mississippi River. It is the most concentrated area of horseradish production in the world and its where we get our roots.
2. What makes horseradish “hot”? What gives it its "bite"?
If the horseradish is truly prepared as a pure product and is not doctored with pepper oils and other ingredients that add heat, the sharp, zippy flavor and penetrating smell of the pure product is due to the grating of the root. In that process, a chemical reaction takes place where the naturally highly-volatile oils contained in the root are released by the crushing and ensuing enzyme activity. If exposed to air or allowed to reach room temperature, the horseradish loses its pungency rapidly. That is why we work with only small-size batches under strictly-controlled time and temperature constraints.
3. What’s in a name?
According to Illinois Horseradish: A Natural Condiment, “Horseradish has nothing to do with horses and is not a radish (it’s a member of the mustard family). The name may have come from an English adaptation of its German name. In early times the plant grew wild in European coastal areas; the Germans called it ‘meerretich’ or ‘sea radish.’ The German word ‘meer’ sounds like the ‘mare’ in English. Perhaps ‘mare-radish’ eventually became ‘horseradish.’ The word ‘horseradish’ first appeared in print in 1597 in John Gerarde’s English herbal on medicinal plants.”
4. Is wasabi horseradish?
While both plants belong to the Brassicaceae family, wasabi is an aquatic plant (wasabi japonica) grown in streams. It does have some similar taste characteristics, but when fresh is totally different in flavor and texture.
5. Does horseradish need to be kept refridgerated?
Because Saw Mill Site Farm horseradish products do not contain artificial preservatives, they need to be kept refrigerated at all times.