Horseradish Armoracia rusticana is a perennial plant of the family Brassicaceae (which also includes mustard, wasabi, broccoli, cabbage, and radish). It is a root vegetable, cultivated and used worldwide as a spice and as a condiment. The species is probably native to southeastern Europe and western Asia.
The Horseradish Armoracia rusticana Basics
Horseradish grows up to 5 feet tall, with hairless bright green unlobed leaves up to 3 feet long that may be mistaken for docks. It is cultivated primarily for its large, white, tapered root. The white four-petalled flowers are scented and are borne in dense panicles. Established plants may form extensive patches and may become invasive unless carefully managed.
Intact horseradish root has little aroma. When cut or grated, enzymes from within the plant cells digest sinigrin (a glucosinolate) to produce allyl isothiocyanate (mustard oil), which irritates the mucous membranes of the sinuses and eyes. Once exposed to air or heat, horseradish loses its pungency, darkens in color, and develops a bitter flavor.
After the first frost in autumn kills the leaves, the root is dug and divided. The main root is harvested and one or more large offshoots of the main root are replanted to produce next year’s crop. Horseradish left undisturbed in the garden spreads via underground shoots and can become invasive. Older roots left in the ground become woody, after which they are no longer culinarily useful, although older plants can be dug and re-divided to start new plants. The early season leaves can be distinctively different, asymmetric spiky, before the mature typical flat broad leaves start to be developed.
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