The horseradish root possesses a potent flavor, commonly described as hot, spicy and peppery. Unlike hot peppers that burn the tongue, the intense spice of the horseradish is experienced through the nose and sinuses. In medieval times, horseradish root was believed to cure pretty much everything, especially respiratory ailments. Today, horseradish root -- fresh or commercially prepared -- is used to liven up meals, adding a spicy complement to everything from roast beef sandwiches to chip dips.
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Fresh horseradish is a long, tubular root with a rusty brown peel. Purchase it at grocery stores and markets in late summer and early fall. The sharp and spicy flavor that horseradish is known for lies dormant until the root cells are crushed. The volatile oils that are responsible for its hot flavor -- called isothiocyanate -- are released when the root is ground or grated. The fumes given off during grinding or grating are quite potent. Be prepared in a well-ventilated room or grind horseradish in a blender.
The Perfect Pair
Horseradish is traditionally served as an accompaniment to meat, its hot and spicy flavor ideal for livening up everything from prime rib to roast beef to pork loins. Slather horseradish on sandwiches, and use it to beef up condiments, including relishes, salad dressing and dips. Add a pinch of freshly grated or prepared horseradish to a classic Bloody Mary.
Horseradish is typically used as a condiment, and its pungent flavor is best enjoyed in moderation. Find prepared horseradish at your local grocery store, which at its most basic contains ground horseradish and vinegar, although commercial products may contain spices or other ingredients. Once a horseradish root is ground, the volatile oils quickly intensify. Vinegar stops the process and stabilizes the flavor. The heat of prepared horseradish is determined by when the vinegar is added. Adding vinegar immediately after grinding produces a milder flavor; waiting three minutes creates a hotter one.
Store fresh horseradish roots for several months in the refrigerator by washing the them and storing in a resealable plastic bag. Store prepared horseradish -- including store-bought and homemade versions -- in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator or freezer. Prepared horseradish gradually loses its flavor over time. Use it within four to six weeks if stored in the refrigerator, and within six months if stored in the freezer.