COLUMBIA, Mo. – Chili peppers get all the attention these days, but don’t overlook humble horseradish if you’re looking for ways to spice up a dish, says a University of Missouri Extension horticulturist. It might even help you cope with the heat.

“There is a somewhat unconventional line of reasoning that suggests eating something hot and spicy makes a warm summer day seem cooler,” said David Trinklein. “If there is truth in that, then reaching for horseradish sauce may be a novel way to keep cool this summer.”

Horseradish, a member of the mustard family, gets its kick from allyl isothiocyanate, which is created in a chemical reaction when the roots of the plant are cut or grated. Unlike capsaicin, which creates the burning sensation in your mouth when you eat chili peppers, allyl isothiocyanate unleashes its fury in the nasal passages and the eyes. The chemical is so pungent that a Japanese company developed a smoke alarm that emits allyl isothiocyanate to warn hearing-impaired persons of danger with an odor strong enough to rouse people from sleep.

Though horseradish is native to eastern Europe and western Asia, the U.S. is now the world’s top producer of horseradish, with most of the U.S. crop grown next door to the Show-Me State in western Illinois. (Conversely, chili peppers are native to the Americas, but China now grows more chilis than any other country.)

Another difference from chilis is that this hot and spicy plant is fond of cool conditions, with most root growth taking place in the late summer and early autumn as temperatures begin to fall. Harvest is in late fall or winter, once frost has killed the leaves.

Horseradish needs to stay cool after harvest as well. “Oddly, horseradish needs to be kept cold to stay hot,” Trinklein said.

To prepare horseradish for eating, peel the roots and grate them, or dice and grind the pieces in a blender or food processor. This will produce powerful fumes, so make sure the area is well-ventilated. Add a small amount of water or crushed ice to keep the mixture cool. After grating or grinding, add 2-3 teaspoons of white vinegar per cup of horseradish.

“The vinegar stabilizes the hotness of the finished product,” he said. “Adding the vinegar promptly producers a milder product. Waiting several minutes results in greater pungency.” Waiting too long, however, will discolor the sauce and give it a bitter taste.

Place the completed mixture in tightly sealed jars and store in a refrigerator or freezer.


Growing horseradish

By David Trinklein, MU Extension horticulturist

A little horseradish goes a long way and the needs of most families are met by only a few plants. For those who want to grow their own, horseradish is propagated vegetatively in the early spring from root cuttings 8-9 inches long that contain a growing point. The latter usually is saved from the previous fall’s harvest. Form a trench 3-5 inches deep and place the root cuttings 12- 15 inches apart at a 45-degree angle, all facing in the same direction. Cover the bottom portion of the cuttings with soil to hold them in place.

Horseradish needs a deep, rich soil with adequate fertility and moisture to thrive. It’s very beneficial to incorporate manure into the soil in the fall before planting a crop. You may add synthetic fertilizers in the spring, but avoid those that are high in nitrogen. Once roots are established, irrigation usually isn’t necessary until later in the growing season when the storage roots begin to enlarge.

Harvest is accomplished by digging the roots and should not be done until late October or early November after frost has occurred. Roots may be dug any time during the winter as long as the soil is not frozen.

Horseradish is relatively pest-free. Flea beetles and beet leafhoppers are its primary insect pests. White rust, turnip mosaic and brittle root are diseases known to be problematic on horseradish.



Horsin’ Around BBQ Saucy Wings (from
Number of servings: 8

1 jar (6 ounces) horseradish mustard
2 1/2 ounces Worcestershire sauce
1/2 pound margarine
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
2-3 tablespoon chili powder
1 heaping tablespoon salt
15-20 wings/wing portions
Salt and pepper

Prepare charcoal grill. Wash and pat dry wings and portions. Mix all ingredients for sauce and bring to a boil. After wings are done on the grill, place in shallow baking dish and pour sauce over. Put in preheated 350-degree oven and cook for 10-12 minutes.

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