Horseradish is spicy for a reason: The plant’s natural defense mechanism, when chewed, cut, or similarly disturbed, is to release chemical compounds that make your eyes and nose burn. The spiciness of horseradish comes from the chemical allyl isothiocyanate, which is also found in mustard and other radishes, and is closely related to the chemical that makes you cry when you chop an onion.
The spiciness of horseradish comes from the chemical allyl isothiocyanate, which is also found in mustard and other radishes, and is closely related to the chemical that makes you cry when you chop an onion.
While spicy chilies get their heat from capsaicin, which creates a burning sensation when it touches your tongue, allyl isothiocyanate is released as a vapor. The burn from horseradish is therefore as much about the sensation in your nasal passages as on your tongue. Too much horseradish can leave you hurting, but in the right proportion it can add a spark to savory dishes like roast beef and egg salad, or to a Bloody Mary.
Often, horseradish is served as a condiment, grated and combined with an acid. It is also the feature ingredient in many European sauces, added to a creamy base like sour cream or mayonnaise. The cool, soothing creaminess and bright acid round out the pungency of the radish, allowing it to tantalize without overwhelming.
The Mindful Kitchen Recipe: Try This Recipe
Mix one part lemon juice, two pats freshly grated horseradish and three parts creme fraiche or sour cream. Add salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate, covered, for half an hour. Enjoy as a dip with veggie, spread on a cracked, dolloped over a baked potato. As you eat, notice how it feels on your tongue and in your nostrils. Dos the sensation change over time? Where do you feel it first, and where does it linger? How does the warmth move through your body?