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Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana, syn. Cochlearia armoracia) is a perennial plant of the Brassicaceae family, which includes mustard and cabbages. The plant is probably native to southeastern Europe and western Asia, but is popular around the world today. It grows up to 1.5 metres (five feet) tall and is mainly cultivated for its large white, tapering root, although the leaves are also edible.
Its root is used as a vegetable or ground in a condiment called prepared horseradish, and has at times been used as the bitter herbs in the Passover meal in some Jewish communities. Horseradish, sometimes blended with cream and called horseradish sauce, is often served with roast or boiled beef or sausages, as well as smoked fish. Horseradish is also used in some prepared mustards. Also, much of what is styled wasabi is actually common horseradish dyed green.
The horseradish root itself has hardly any aroma. When cut or grated, however, enzymes from the damaged plant cells break down sinigrin (a glucosilinate) to produce allylisothiocyanate (mustard oil), which irritates the sinuses and eyes. Once grated, use horseradish immediately or mix it in vinegar, as the root darkens and loses its pungency and becomes unpleasantly bitter when exposed to air and heat.
Over two thirds of the world's horseradish is said to be grown in a small region around Collinsville, Illinois in the US, the self-styled "Horseradish Capital of the World", whence it is even exported overseas as a gourmet version of the product to places more renowned for consumption of the root.
It has been speculated that the word is a partial translation of its German name Meerrettich. The element Meer (meaning 'ocean, sea', although it could be derived from the similar sounding Mhren, the german word for Moravia, an area where the vegetable is cultiated and used extensively) is pronounced like the English word mare, which might have been reinterpreted as horseradish. On the other hand, many English plant names have "horse" as an element denoting strong or coarse, so the etymology of the English word (which is attested in print from at least 1597) is uncertain.
Horseradish contains potassium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, as well as volatile oils, such as mustard oil, which is antibiotic. Fresh, the plant contains 177,9 mg/100 g of vitamin C. The enzyme horseradish peroxidase, found in the plant, is used extensively in molecular biology in antibody amplification and detection, among other things.
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