The Bitter Herb - Preparing Fresh Horseradish ~ The Garden of Eating - a sinfully good blog about food

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Bitter Herb - Preparing Fresh Horseradish

I decided to try making my own horseradish sauce for Passover this year. Although you can also use dandelion greens, endive, or romaine lettuce, horseradish is probably the most popular option for the bitter herbs on the Passover seder plate. 

The bitter herbs are also known as "marror" (derived from the Hebrew word for "bitter") and they represent the bitterness of the slavery the Jews endured in Egypt. In addition to this heavy bit of symbolism, horseradish also tastes delicious on matzoh with a little charoset spread on it to add some sweetness to its bite.

I'd heard that horseradish sauce is pretty easy to make so I was not surprised by the scores of simple recipes that came up when I googled "make your own horseradish." But I was surprised by the sheer number of strongly-worded WARNINGS in all the recipes! It seems that horseradish's characteristic bite is sharpest when the oils in the root are first exposed to air. So potent are these oils that all the recipes I read suggested (in no uncertain terms):

a) preparing the root outdoors,
b) wearing gloves and protective eye wear, and
c) doing anything and everything you can to avoid touching your eyes after handling the stuff.

This actually sounded kinda fun to me so I soldiered on. Horseradish root is available all year round so I figured I could find some at one of our local produce stores. Although I was extremely underwhelmed by the offerings at Monterey Market (the roots looked like tiny, shrivelled, moldy parsnips) I found a big, fresh-looking root without any blemishes or mold at our local supermarket.

On a sunny afternoon, I gathered everything I would need - gloves, sunglasses, apron, cuisinart, extension cord (for plugging the cuisinart in outside), compost bucket (for the horseradish root peels), spatula, vegetable peeler, knife, rubber spatula, measuring spoon, measuring cup, white vinegar, salt, ice cold water, the washed horseradish root, and two glass jars for storing the final product - and headed for our back deck. Here is a photo of my little set up.

My set up for making fresh horseradish sauce
I began by donning my gloves and sunglasses and peeling the horseradish root down to its creamy white interior and removing any blemishes. The next step was to cut the peeled root into cubes to make it more manageable for the cuisinart's blades to chop.

Cutting up the horseradish root
I was now ready to begin the grinding. Before I dumped the cubed root into the bowl of the cuisinart, I poured a little bit of the ice water into the bottom. Then I added the root, snapped the top into place and hit the "on" button.
Cubes of horseradish in the cuisinart
I was immediately rewarded with a big splash of grated horseradish in the face (via that little tube in the top of the cuisinart) and was very thankful for my sunglasses. Waves of hot horseradish scent radiated from the spinning blades making me glad I had chosen to do this out of doors (thank you again, Internet warnings.) After 20-30 seconds, the cubes of hard root had become a smooth white sauce. I opened the top to push down any stray chunks that had escaped the blades with the rubber spatula and blended another 10 seconds or so to ensure an even consistency.

Fresh horseradish sauce
Now it was time to add the vinegar and salt. Vinegar has a neutralizing effect on the oils that give horseradish its heat. Consequently, adding vinegar earlier in the process will prevent the horseradish from reaching its peak heat. Or, if you want your horseradish to be as hot as possible, wait three minutes after you've finished the blending and then add the vinegar. Since I was shooting for only medium "hotness" in this batch of horseradish, I added the white vinegar and salt right away. Then I blended the mixture for another 5 or so seconds to combine evenly.

At this point, the only thing left to do was taste it and make sure it was fit for human consumption. I reached in and scooped out a dollop on a spoon (I found myself blowing on the spoon before I put it in my mouth in an unconscious attempt to "cool" it down) and was rewarded with a mouthful of pungent flavor - fresh, spicy, and just a tiny bit sweet. It was damn good horseradish!!!

A spoonful of fresh horseradish
I decided to spoon it into the two jars outside, in the hopes of confining most of the mess I was creating to our deck. The piece of root I'd bought had made two full jars of horseradish. I gave them a wipedown inside, then placed them in the fridge. Ironically, horseradish must be kept cold in order to preserve its heat. It will keep well in the fridge for about 4-6 weeks or in the freezer for 6 months or more. If you want to give it a try, the recipe is below. Happy Pesach to all!
My two jars of fresh horseradish
Fresh Horseradish Sauce


* Fresh horseradish root (look for a firm, unblemished root - the whiter it looks inside, the fresher it is)
* White vinegar
* Salt
* Ice water


1. Gather all your protective gear, cooking implements and ingredients together and bring them all to the outdoor location of your choice (you'll need an outlet and a table.) It's best to have everything in place before you get started so you don't have to run back and forth and take the gloves on and off, etc.

2. Cut the ends off the horseradish root and peel it (the interior should be a creamy white) and then cut it into cubes that will be a manageable size for your blender or cuisinart.

3. Pour 1/4 cup of the ice water into your blender or cuisinart (if you're using a blender, it should be enough to just cover the blades) and dump the horseradish cubes in after it.

4. Blend it for 25-30 seconds or until it is the consistency of the prepared horseradish you'd buy at the store. If your blender or cuisinart is having trouble, you can add a bit more water. Stop blending to shove any stray, unblended chunks down into the bowl and blend until they've been incorporated.

5. Depending on how hot you want the horseradish you can either add the vinegar and salt now or wait a few minutes to add it. Add 2-3 tablespoons of white vinegar and a half teaspoon of salt for each cup of ground horseradish root. Then blend a few seconds to combine thoroughly.

6. Taste (try a small amount as it may be very spicy!) the sauce to see if you need to adjust anything (more vinegar, more salt, etc.) If you're satisfied, you can jar it up now. If your sauce seems too liquidy, you can drain off some of the water. Then spoon the sauce into glass jars with airtight lids and place them in the refrigerator. If you want to freeze the sauce, use a plastic container with an airtight lid. It will keep well in the fridge for about 4-6 weeks or in the freezer for 6 months or more.

* Use Kosher ingredients if you're making this for a Passover seder.
I'd also recommend trying to buy organic ingredients if you can find them.

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Anonymous said...

damn good horseradish post; bravo!!!

Eve Fox said...


Marc R said...

That looks goddamn delicious! How does it compare to store-bought horseradish (Gold’s being basically the only brand I’ve ever eaten)? What do you think about using weirdo vinegars like white wine vinegar or cider vinegar or something?

Eve Fox said...

I made a LOT (after all, how much horseradish can you eat at any given sitting) so I will bring some in for you on Tuesday since there's no way we can use it all in 6 weeks.

I think the taste is better (but have also had better and worse store-bought prepared horseradish).

I think that it might be really interesting to use cider vinegar or white wine - I thought about doing that but decided to stick with the most straightforward approach for the first test. It probably gives it a little bit of a different flavor but that would probably be good.

Eve Fox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sheilag said...

I've made horseradish this way for years, same recipe more or less with a little added sugar. I make it in my kitchen. My grandmother used to do it outside but that was because she used to grate it by hand. Homemade is much more pungent although it loses some heat over time.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful instructions and pix! Funny how someone noted that people had to prepare horseradish outside because they did it by hand. My mother (aged 88) enjoyed remembering how my grandmother prepared horseradish by the open window in her Brooklyn apartment. Anyway, we did fine inside with our blender. We added a teaspoon of sugar to four tablespoons of vinegar, 1 tsp of salt, 2 cups of ground up horseradish root and 1 ground up beet. The delightfully hot result added extra fun to our family's seder. Thank you.

Sarah said...

Now I REALLY REALLY REALLY wish you were coming to passover!!

Matt said...

Nice post! I just did this today (guessing how) and see that I basically had the correct approach. Next time I will add the vinegar later though - I didn't know that it cooled it down. Darn. Ours tastes quite bitter in fact. We just got the root through a local organic co-op, maybe it has been sitting a while - but it looked just like the one in your picture. Still good though.

...Summer Burton said...

Thanks for the recipe, and the fantastic photos to go along with it! My husband and I made our own horseradish for the first time using your instructions, and although it turned out a bit more "tan" in colour than yours (older root? different soil? Canadian climate?) it still tasted good.

~ Summer

debi9kids said...

Just made this tonite for our Seder.
Will review it likely :)

Sara said...

I'd love to try this someday. From time to time I'm sure I've seen horseradish, I will make sure to pick it up. thanks for the warning about protecting eyes and hands!

Anonymous said...

I can't eat vinegar. Can I replace the white vinegar with lemon or something else?

Eve Fox said...

I don't know for absolutely certain but I imagine that you could use lemon juice since you're just making it acidic. But I'm sure it changes the taste.

michelle said...

Loved It!! Thank You!!

Anonymous said...

Don't be such a pussy! I make it indoors all of the time-no problem!

Anonymous said...

We had this at our Seder dinner last night and it was fabulous! We all loved it, and it pairs well with the haroseth.

jColes said...

Holy cow!!!
My horseradish plants are now four years old ... I harvested about two pounds of root, some up to 2-inches in diameter & 12-inches long.

Of course, I replanted the crowns in a different part of the garden & will revisit them in a few years. The rest of the old crop will be ready next year.

For this batch of prepared horseradish I followed your recipe with two exceptions -- reduced the vinegar by half & used a bit more salt.

After the initial chop I added salt, stirred with a wooden spatula then let the material stand 15 minutes. Then I added the reduced amount of vinegar & processed in the blender for a full minute.
Oh. My. Gosh.
This wonderful -- fully capable of clearing even the most congested sinuses! :-)

But the real test came when I streamed oysters & dolloped my new sauce on ... it was the perfect compliment to those massive Appalachacola Bay shell fish.

Bottom line: this is an easy to use, very good recipe ... and adjusting for taste creates the perfect prepared horseradish.

Eve Fox said...

jColes, that sounds really, really delicious! Glad it worked out for you.

jColes said...

Eve .., my wife & I probably eat better than most urban people ... we live in South Alabama near a small town ... in this climate I'm able to grow food year-round, so 90% of our veggies come from my gardens. The only store-bought veggies are those that require cold weather.
I hunt, fish & barter for animal protein -- haven't eaten commercial meat in 10 years...and I do most of the cooking, baking, BBQ-smoking at our house. I love to garden & I love cooking even more!
My point: I sensed from your horseradish recipe that you emphasize freshness in ingredients. There is absolutely nothing wrong or harmful with commercially produced foods -- including GMOs -- but buying fresh is very important and even in urban areas there are many veggie markets that buy directly from the producer.
Please continue to publish great recipes ... I'll come back to your pages often.

Helen said...

I come back to this recipe year after year, thank you! I am not a fan of 'hot' and I really need to learn to add the vinegar earlier! Like before I even start processing it, maybe. This year I added it when it was just partly blended, and whooie! It is hot. I never go outside to make it, since there is usually still snow on the ground at Passover time, and it's fine. Chag Sameach!

Helen said...

I come back to this recipe year after year, thank you! I am not a fan of 'hot' and really need to learn to add the vinegar earlier! This year I added it when it was only partially blended, and whooie! it is hot! I never go outside to make it since there is usually snow on the ground at Passover time, and it's fine ,but do recommend some safety glasses. Chag Sameach!

Steven Kozicki said...

Careful about using other kinds of vinegar. Apple cider vinegar turns the horseradish bluish gray. Tastes fine but looks bad.

Vickie said...

Hi Eve Made horseradish with beets for Passover. After making a few adjustments... ie adding more beets. I ended up with quite a bit. Will it last the same time in fridge or freezer as the horse radish without beets? What do you think about ascorbic acid (Fruit Fresh) as a preservative? Is it necessary?

It was my first time.Came out great! thanks for all the good tips.

Anonymous said...

@jcoles "There is absolutely nothing wrong or harmful with commercially produced foods -- including GMOs"
Are you just tring to sound stupid to get a reaction?

Anyway to the poster thanks for this, looking forward to trying.