Cooking With Horseradish: The Dos and Don’ts

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Horseradish is a popular condiment used mostly on roast beef and seafood. It is known for its pungency and heat, but those properties are quite different from similar properties in other spices like chili peppers and black pepper. Follow the tips below to get the best results from homemade or commercial prepared horseradish.

Do use horseradish quickly.

The source of the heat in horseradish is allyl isothiocyanate and it is volatile. It is the product of glucosinolates that are converted by enzymes when the horseradish is cut or grated. The volatility of allyl isothiocyanate means that horseradish will lose its heat after if it is exposed to air for an extended period. Horseradish will lose its heat after if it is exposed to air for an extended period. This means that upon grating it, you will need to place it in an airtight (or at least covered) container to prolong the pungency.

Do keep horseradish chilled after grating or cutting it.

In addition to being volatile, the compounds that give horseradish its distinctive flavor are also sensitive to temperature. Failing to refrigerate your horseradish shortly after cutting or grating can cause it to lose heat. Fresh horseradish roots can last in a refrigerator for months if they are stored in an airtight container.

You will want to avoid using a plastic container if you can since the volatile compounds in horseradish can penetrate it, which means that it can lose heat there as well.

Do work in a well-ventilated area when you are preparing fresh horseradish.

Peel the roots with a vegetable peeler and use a blender or food processor along (with a small amount of water) to handle the grating. The fumes can be pretty strong during all of this and especially during the grating part. They can burn your eyes and nose if you fail to take proper precautions.

Do add a source of acidity to enhance the heat.

A source of acidity will halt the evaporation of the volatile compounds in horseradish, which is why commercially prepared horseradish will usually contain either vinegar or lemon juice. Note that timing is key when adding vinegar to homemade grated horseradish. If you add it too soon, you will wind up with a condiment that is on the mild side. Wait for about three minutes after grating before adding it if you want to maximize the heat of the condiment.

Do use water to neutralize the heat from the horseradish.

Allyl isothiocyanate is water-soluble, which is why its heat does not linger for as long as the heat from chili peppers. You can simply drink and eat as normal to neutralize it.

Do freeze your fresh horseradish.

If you have a large quantity of fresh horseradish that you want to preserve, freezing is the best way to do that. Simply grate it and place it in an ice cube tray. When the cubes are frozen solid, pop them out and place them in a freezer bag. Your horseradish cubes will lose a little of their heat but retain most of it. In addition, the cubes are easy to use since you can simply pop one into your dish.

Don’t cook horseradish if you can help it.

As noted above, horseradish is very sensitive to heat. As a result, most applications involve using the raw root. Cooking reduces the flavor considerably, especially the heat that most people want from it. If you must cook it, try to add it at the end of the cooking time.