What is Horseradish?

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The first thing that comes to mind when you think of horseradish may be the creamy white sauce in a glass jar, but are you ready to get to know horseradish as a standalone ingredient?

horseradish is a root vegetable

If you say you love horseradish, there’s a chance you’re actually referring to a love of horseradish sauce. The two are similar but different, and the sauce wouldn’t entirely be the same without its key ingredient – horseradish root.

Horseradish is a vegetable, and when purchased whole, it resembles whole ginger. Chefs and home cooks like to grate it fresh similar to ginger. It’s often used to make sauces (horseradish sauce included), and its flavor complements beef cuts like tenderloin and prime rib well.

You can buy it fresh or dried, or you can buy what’s known as prepared horseradish. All of these are different from horseradish sauce. There’s a lot to unpack regarding this intensely aromatic and tangy ingredient.

horseradish and a y-peeler

What is horseradish?

Believe it or not, horseradish (“armoracia rusticana” if you want to impress your friends) is considered a cruciferous vegetable – just like kale. It’s part of the mustard family with the likes of wasabi, broccoli, radishes, and cabbage. While it’s grown worldwide today, it’s thought to have originated in western Asia or southeastern Europe.

It has ties to Passover and is still used in Jewish cooking. Its bitterness symbolizes how Hebrews were treated and enslaved in Egypt. But it has also been associated with healing, used as a medicinal ingredient during the middle ages. Germans are known to eat it with meat, like the ketchup to our french fry. In Chinese cooking, horseradish is used to make mustard oil, which is often used in spicy dishes. 

What does it taste like?

The fact that horseradish belongs to the same family as wasabi is a big hint to how it tastes. It’s pungent and spicy, all because of a compound called allyl isothiocyanate. It’s what gives horseradish its zingy taste and aroma.

person grating peeled horseradish

How do you prepare the root for dishes?

It’s best to prepare horseradish in a ventilated space. It can do a number on your sinuses. Some would say worse than onions. But when you’re ready to give it a go, start by peeling off the rough brown exterior. Then simply grate it. You can also use a food processor if you’re working with large amounts.

Prepared horseradish vs. horseradish sauce

Both come in jars in the condiment or international aisles. However, prepared horseradish is simply the horseradish root, vinegar, and salt. Horseradish sauce incorporates cream (sometimes sour cream or mayonnaise) to create a thick creamy texture. The sauce version tames the flavor, while prepared horseradish will have more of that signature zing this ingredient is known for.

pile of grated horseradish on a cutting board


Horseradish season starts in spring and will carry through fall. When purchasing fresh horseradish, you want to look for hard roots that don’t have sprouting. 

You may have to search and scout local farmer’s markets to find this vegetable; it’s not as common as onions or apples at the grocery store. However, prepared horseradish or the sauce condiment is widely available at most major supermarkets. 

You can also purchase dried horseradish from certain specialty grocery stores. This type can take some digging around online to find. 


You can store fresh horseradish for about two weeks in the refrigerator. It helps to wrap it in a wet paper towel. You can also grate it and mix it with a bit of vinegar to preserve flavor.

Jarred horseradish purchased in the condiment aisle will last for many months. However, it may start to lose potency the longer it sits. Opened jars should always be stored in the fridge, but unopened jars are fine to keep in your pantry. 

How do you use it in dishes?

Horseradish sauce makes a great complement to fish dishes and fish sandwiches, as well as a condiment for beef and sausages. A little scoop on the side of a special prime rib dinner is a popular way to enjoy this ingredient. 

It’s also a common ingredient in Bloody Mary’s, especially if you like them spicy. You might also get creative and experiment with adding small amounts to salad dressings and marinades for just a hint of zing. Think about pairing it with sweet ingredients, so they balance each other out.

Health benefits

So, it’s fun to cook with, but is it good for you? The sauce version is less nutritious because of the cream, but horseradish itself has some potential health benefits. Research has found it has antibacterial properties and may help fight infections from food-borne illness, as well as sinus infections and bronchitis

Nutritional profile 

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1 tablespoon of prepared horseradish contains:

  • 0.1 g fat
  • 1.7 g carbohydrates
  • 0.1 g protein
  • 0.4 g fiber
  • 1.2 g sugar
  • 36 mg potassium
  • 63 mg of sodium

Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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