Monday, March 16, 2009

Healthy Horseradish

At a birthday party over the weekend, a friend of a friend who I have not seen in a year was chatting with me over appetizers and general conversation ensued until he told me that lately he has become “obsessed” with horseradish and cannot get enough of the potent condiment. Throughout the party he would come over and tell me another fun fact about horseradish’s health benefits as if to persuade me to add it to my diet. Well, even though I do not enjoy horseradish much with my meals and only occasionally add a bit of wasabi to my soy sauce on sushi, I also could not get the idea of horseradish off my mind. Horseradish, as it turns out, is cousin to the hot dog-favorite mustard as well as tasty and good-for-you veggies like cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower.
A large white root that grows up to five feet tall, horseradish barely gives off a scent in its original form. What we normally call “horseradish” is actually the product of the grated root with vinegar added and is properly known as “prepared horseradish.” Vinegar is added to stop the reaction process and stimulate flavor because when the root is cut down or grated, enzymes are released as the cells break down to produce the sinus-and eye-stinging effect we know and either love or hate depending on our taste tolerance. If the grated horseradish is not immediately put to use or has vinegar added to it, the paste gets dark and becomes bitter because the plant cells have all broken down and spoiled producing an unpleasant condiment once exposed to the air, which no one would want on their dining table.

Horseradish has been used for centuries as a natural herbal medicine to cure all sorts of ailments from toothaches and sinus troubles to urinary tract infections and as an immune booster full of antioxidants to fight against cancer cells. Around for centuries, Pliny the Elder named horseradish (called Amoracia) in his writings of history, Native Americans chewed the root as a natural form of toothpaste, and seafarers rationed it against the spread of scurvy. Helping to rid the body of mucus, consuming horseradish can cure sinusitis and can also prevent against infection and cough. The root, either plain or cured with vinegar, helps to remove toxins and other waste from the body on an as-needed basis.

The rest of the plant can also be used for natural healing. The leaves are said to dispel a headache almost immediately when pressed on the forehead and tea made from the flowers of the plant is steeped and enjoyed in order to calm even the most severe of colds or even the flu.

Chock full of vitamins C and B, potassium, iron, and calcium, as well as helpful enzymes and a natural antibiotic, the spicy root acts as a super food and is also great for dietary means. In just one tablespoon of prepared horseradish the numbers are small and great for adding lots of flavor without all the guilt of more fattening condiments such as mayonnaise or gravy. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) even included horseradish on their tip sheet for healthy eating as a way to curb obesity. As well as acting as a natural food preservative, with only 6 calories in one tablespoon, 1.4 grams carbohydrates, 14 milligrams of sodium, 9 milligrams of calcium, and 0 grams of fat, horseradish should be a welcome addition to any sandwich, meat, fish, salad, soup, or any other dish, so get creative!

In the United States, prepared horseradish or creamy horseradish sauce is commonly found on roast beef sandwiches and culturally alongside fish and other meat-related dishes, and fast food has made it a staple at Arby’s chains across the nation. If you enjoy the taste, spicy and tangy horseradish can clean out your airways, boost your nutrient intake, and is a great way to stay healthy without all the bland “diet food” fear.

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