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Food for Thought: Why they call It 'horse' radish

The L & T Cheryl DeGroot
Out of the bushes and onto your plate

Nancy Leson asked me how the horseradish got its name.  It's not because of its resemblance to a certain part of a horse.  And it's not because horses like to eat it – the stuff's actually poisonous to them.  The "horse" in horseradish is just an antique adjective describing anything large or strong.  For my taste, the stronger the better.

It's not hard to grate your own horseradish, but if you do, it wouldn't hurt to wear a nuke suit or at least a gas mask when you do.  Once the cell walls of the root are broken down, two chemicals previously kept separate combine to form allyl isothiocyanate – the stuff that shoots the vaporized razor blades through your sinuses.  It's the plant's natural defense against getting eaten.  Ironic, no?

Homemade horseradish is simple to prepare, and I really think it tastes better than the bottled kind.  The process does requires a degree of caution.  The last time I tried it, that first blast of allyl isothiocyanate was like a chemical warfare attack.  With that caution in mind, here's a link to the recipe Daniel Gritzer of Serious Eats offers.

"Smoked salmon with pedigreed lettuce and razor-sharp slices of onion that have been soaked in ice water, brushed with horseradish and mustard, served on French butter rolls baked in the hot ovens of Kinokuniya.  A sandwich made in heaven" –  Haruki Murakami

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