First horseradish fact of the day: Horses don’t eat it. And the second: It may provide a bunch of health benefits for humans.
A quick gallop through the benefits of horseradish
Horseradish might provide the following health kicks:
- possible action to reduce your risk of cancer (due to glucosinolates and isothiocyanates)
- antibacterial properties (thanks to allyl isothiocyanate)
- a potential common cold remedy
- anti-inflammatory properties (thanks to sinigrin)
- a boost in antioxidant content (courtesy of phytocompounds)
- promotes digestion (because of all the enzymes in it)
There’s still a lot of research needed before we can remove that little word. The studies so far look promising though, but science still needs a little while to catch up with your Mee-Maw’s ancient family wisdom.
This pungent cruciferous veggie isn’t only an acquired taste at your dinner table, but it’s also straight-up swimming in compounds and nutrients that might bring you a whole range of feel-good body boosts.
So, are you ready to know why peeps have used horseradish for its potential medicinal properties since the time of the ancient Greeks? Good. Let’s get to it!
Here’s the science behind the benefits of the humble horseradish.
Horseradish nutritional info
Before we dive into the benefits, let’s take a look at the nutritional contents of the radish no horse will eat. According to the USDA, 1 tablespoon or 15 grams (g) of horseradish provides:
- 7.2 calories
- 0.1 g fat
- 0.17 g protein
- 1.7 g carbs
- 0.5 g dietary fiber
- 1.2 g sugar
- trace amounts of several minerals including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium
This doesn’t seem like a huge amount of nutrients, but this list doesn’t tell you the whole story.
While you’re not going to hit any of your recommended daily allowances with horseradish alone, the magic of horseradish isn’t in its nutrients, but its biochemistry.
Horseradish is a cruciferous vegetable. This means that it belongs to the same veggie family as broccoli, cabbage, kale, sprouts, and cauliflower. A 2015 study found that certain chemical components in cruciferous vegetables may inhibit a cancer cell’s genetic ability to grow.
Preventing carcinogenesis (the birth of cancer cells) is also important in the crusade against cancer. An earlier study in 2008 found that isothiocyanates, derived from the breakdown of glucosinolates (a compound found in cruciferous vegetables) like our humble horseradish, may do that too.
Glucosinolates and isothiocyanates are phytochemicals. These are chemical compounds that plants make to protect themselves against microbes. It turns out that these compounds may also be good for protecting people against cancers. The current research isn’t conclusive, but what we’ve got so far looks promising.
Research from 2020 found that there was a 52 percent reduced risk of breast cancer among females who ate a diet high in root veg (i.e., rich in glucosinolates and isothiocyanates) compared to females who did not. However, the study itself admits that the evidence isn’t strong enough yet to bank our cancer-prevention hopes on cruciferous veg.
Some test tube studies using horseradish compounds found that they *might* also halt the growth of colon, lung, and stomach cancer. Horseradish provides the enzyme peroxidase. Multiple studies found that peroxidase can be hella useful for inducing cell death in breast cancer cells and peroxidase in combination with indole-3 acetic acid for inducing cell death in pancreatic cancer cells.
Peroxidase is effective at flipping the bird to cancer. For this reason, scientists are trying to make nanoparticles that act like it. That’s a heckin’ good endorsement, right there.
When you cut horseradish, it releases an oil called allyl isothiocyanate. A 2018 study (as well as earlier studies like this one from way back in 2009) found that this oil may have actions against bacterial nasties including Escherichia coli (E. coli), Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), and Salmonella.
Other studies have backed up the bacteria-bashing reputation of isothiocyanates. A 2013 study on isothiocyanates extracted from horseradish found that it showed action again six different types of oral bacteria. That’s a pretty impressive body count.
Science people still aren’t exactly sure how isothiocyanates work. It’s thought they might use enzymes to reduce the growth and multiplication of some bacterial cells or damage the DNA of bacterial cells.
But the mechanisms they use to do this remain a mystery that researchers are still trying to solve.
Horseradish is notoriously spicy. A little horseradish burns a long way, steaming up your nose and sinuses as well as your throat. You know the wasabi you get at your favorite sushi place? The kind that Steve-O famously snorted in one of the “Jackass” movies? That little green pea is actually horseradish with green dye.
Folks have used the unique spiciness of horseradish as a remedy for the common cold since ancient times. The pungent smell of horseradish has long had a rep for shifting phlegm when you’re bunged up.
There’s some hard science to back this up, too. A 2006 study of folks taking a horseradish/nasturtium combo found it to be as effective as an antibiotic when treating bronchitis and acute sinus infections.
True, 2006 is a while ago. Plus, it’s unclear whether the effect was due to the horseradish or the nasturtium, and more research needs to take place before we can wave our “Horseradish Will Stop Your Sniffles” flag.
But when you consider that in 2021 the World Health Organization (WHO) considers the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria to be a global health and development threat, revisiting earlier research on horseradish could be helpful for managing bronchitis if drugs like amoxicillin stop having the intended effect.
As always though, def chat with your doc before deciding whether or not to take horseradish (or any herbal supplement) over a prescribed antibiotic.
Horseradish is a member of the mustard family (no relation to Colonel Mustard from “Clue”). Mustards contain the compound sinigrin (a glucosinolate). A 2017 study concluded that if scientists tinker with sinigrin a little, it *could* form the basis of anti-inflammatory medication.
According to the study, sinigrin suppresses the white blood cells (macrophages specifically) that trigger inflammation in your body when it’s under threat. Inflammation can lead to health problems because these cells react too much or too quickly in some people (for example, folk living with Crohn’s disease).
Way, way, more research is needed. But it’s possible that a little horseradish in your diet could help your body’s defenses chill out a little.
This isn’t only useful for digestive conditions, either. A 2020 study found that sinigrin was hella good at suppressing asthmatic inflammation in guinea pigs (actual guinea pigs — not just humans who participated in an experiment).
While some guinea pigs look good in hats, and so do some people, that doesn’t mean the findings will carry over. But since millions of people worldwide live with asthma, that’s pretty darn cool to know. But let’s hold the hype until studies replicate these effects in humans.
Antioxidants have been the “in” thing for, well, ages. That’s why so many of you are probably happy to hear that horseradish might pack some solid antioxidant potential.
In 2014, a bunch of Italian food nerds decided they’d test horseradish to see if it was actually an antioxidant. Horseradish has so much antioxidant capacity that, in 2020, other researchers found that it might be worth planting a bunch of horseradish to soak up arsenic and other pollutants from bad soil.
Obviously, you’re a human being, not a patch of unfarmable contaminated soil. However, the research does at least partially back horseradish’s claim to antioxidant fame.
It’s probably down to the phytocompounds in horseradishes’ thicc rooty booties. Phytochemicals have a long-standing rep as strong antioxidants — enough so that science bods are studying them for their potential in treating chronic diseases.
You know those glucosinolates knocking around in horseradishes? Those are phytochemicals, baby. With a little more research, horseradish may yet turn out to be an antioxidant powerhouse.
Have you heard of a cholagogue? Well, now you have. It’s an obscure term for a group of foods that stimulate the gall bladder. This makes it release bile — a key ingredient in smooth digestion.
Significantly more research needs to take place that demonstrates and proves the relationship between horseradish and healthy digestion. But horseradish does contain enzymes that stimulate vital digestive functions like bile production and bowel movement.
Are there risks with eating horseradish?
Not that science knows of.
However, it’s pretty pungent. You won’t find much info out there on horseradish overdoses, but that doesn’t mean you’ll avoid adverse effects if you eat too much of it.
Horseradish is spicy. Spicy foods, for all their benefits, can irritate the nose, mouth, and stomach if you chow down on large amounts. As a result, folks with digestive issues, irritable bowel diseases, or stomach ulcers should probably avoid highly spicy stuff.
The risks are a big unknown. The best advice is to consume horseradish in moderation. It’s mainly a condiment, after all, so you’re not exactly meant to inhale it by the jarful. (And certainly don’t snort it — looking at you, Steve-O from “Jackass.”)
First things first, horseradish is a condiment — and a little goes a long way. It is, as we said, hella spicy. It normally comes in a jar containing grated horseradish root and a little vinegar, salt, and sugar. You can also find horseradish sauce, which is the above with sour cream or mayo dashed in.
As for pairing, you’ll get the most out of your horseradish by serving it with meat or fish (or, if you eat vegetarian/vegan, your favorite alternative). And peeps who prefer drinking their condiments will get a horse-strength kick from horseradish tea.
Those horseradish fans of the Jewish faith will be pleased to know they can just wait until Passover, as it forms part of the traditional Seder meal as the maror — Hebrew for bitter herb.
“Buy a jar of horseradish and eat it with some protein” is basic-ass advice, but you might want to level up further. Don’t worry, we found some horseradish-suited recipes that’ll send your tongue straight to Flavor Town, no Guy Fieri necessary:
- For shellfish and pasta lovers, there’s this beautiful lemon and horseradish prawns fettuccini dish.
- Like your fish without shells? Don’t worry. Get some of this grilled tuna with fresh horseradish in your bod.
- If you’re more into wings than gills, this pan-seared chicken breast with crunchy radish salad should be right up your street.
- Craving red meat instead of white? No problem! Horseradish-crusted roast beef is exactly what you need.
- Fear not, vegetarian/vegan peeps, we’ve got you covered too. You’ll find this triple mash with horseradish bread to be rad as all heck.
- And of course, if you’re just looking for a snack or something to impress your in-laws at the other half’s annual family BBQ, then you can’t go wrong with a creamy horseradish potato salad.
Making prepared horseradish at home
Want to prepare your own horseradish? No worries! It’s actually super easy.
- Get yourself a fresh horseradish from a store.
- Grate 6–10 inches of the root, or put it in a blender.
- Add a pinch of salt, 1 tablespoon white vinegar, and however many spoons of water you need for consistency.
- Mix well, store in fridge, and consume within 3–4 weeks.
Horseradish is a cruciferous root vegetable that different cultures across the globe have eaten for literally thousands of years. During that time, it has garnered a rep for its medicinal benefits.
We’re now at a stage in history where science is beginning to find some measurable truths in the anecdotal horseradish health-food legend. These include cancer prevention, and antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. There are also possible respiratory and digestive benefits that need more exploring.
A lot more research (and clinical trials) is necessary before anyone can say with certainty what horseradish is good for and how much. There’s also not any evidence that excess horseradish consumption is bad for you, but this might be because no human has yet been the canary down that particular coal mine. We wouldn’t recommend trying to be the first.
Horseradish is usually served as a condiment, but there are plenty of recipes available if your want to cook with it. You can also drink it in tea.
Finally, despite the name, horses don’t like or even eat horseradish. The whole name is a massive lie and probably the biggest conspiracy of our times.