My Horseradish

Dateline: 3 March 2014

Some horseradish roots from my garden.
Under that innocent exterior is an unpleasant surprise for the the novice root grinder.

I made a few jars of ground horseradish last week. It was one of the worst experiences of my life. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Here's the story, from the beginning....

Some of you reading this will recall that I used to post a single, end-of-the-month "blogazine." In my October 2012 Blogazine I wrote about Long's Horseradish, a 5th generation family business down in Lancaster, PA. Marlene was visiting a friend down that way and brought me back a couple jars of Long's ground horseradish root, which I loved.

I was inspired by Marlene's gift of horseradish to grow my own roots and did so last year. I planted four roots in my garden. Here's a picture of the young, healthy plants from last year…

I dug up the roots last fall, washed the biggest ones off, and put them in plastic bags in the fridge. I figured they would keep there and I could grind them into Kimball's Horseradish in the winter, when I had more time.

I surrounded a bunch of the smaller roots in a ball of leaves, which I buried slightly in the garden, then heaped soil over the top. I will replant those roots in the spring. But I will not plant them in my garden again. They will be planted here and there around the perimeter of the apple trees I planted last spring. Horseradish is supposed to be a good perennial for permaculture "food forest" plantings.

The roots in the fridge kept pretty well in the bags (which I perforated with knife slits) though they did dry out some. The roots were in the fridge around four months. I can be a procrastinator, especially when it comes to doing new things.

But last week I finally got around to grinding the roots. My how-to guide was an article by Jim Long in the Fall 2013 issue of Heirloom Gardener magazine (pictured above). This Online How-To is pretty much identical to the instructions in the magazine article.

I began by using a vegetable peeler and a paring knife to remove the soiled exterior of the roots, as this next picture shows…

Peeled root (top).
Unpeeled root (bottom).
Click pictures to see enlarged views.

Peeling wasn't hard or objectionable work, and the exposed root had a fresh sweet-pungent horseradish smell. 

Next, I cut the peeled root pieces into chunks and rinsed them off…

Horseradish roots, peeled, chunked, and washed—ready for grinding.

The Long's Horseradish people use an old horseradish grater to grind their roots. But the modern way is to use a food processor. Our food processor is a real cheap model that I bought years ago to slice garlic cloves—back when I had a nice little home business making Herrick's Homegrown Garlic Powder.

I turned the grinder on and started dropping chunks of root into the twirling blades. Apparently, I fed them in too fast, or they were too big, because, with the contents partially ground, one of the blades sliced part way into a root-chunk and jammed there. I had to take the cover off and fix the problem. When I took the cover off, the fumes were surprisingly intense.

I continued to grind, the chunks continued to jam, I continued to take the thing apart and unjam the works, and the fumes got worse. 

My eyes watered and stung. Tears started running down my cheeks. My nose was flowing. It was kind of funny at first. Then I cut my finger on one of the processor blades while removing a stuck root chunk. And the fumes became more intense. 

I started working faster. Horseradish bits were all over the table, the kitchen floor, and me. I was almost blind, squinting out of one eye, then the other, working at arm's length, trying to get the job done. Finally, I couldn't take it any more and had to run for fresh air. I hung half my body out the living room window and did the farmer's nose-blow. 

My wife kept her distance and thought it was all kind of comical. She opened some windows in the kitchen for ventilation. At this point I had been working at trying to grind the roots for around 20 minutes. I way maybe halfway done.

I really don't have words to describe how intensely unpleasant this episode in my life was. I have seen movies of prison guards in training, being tear-gassed in a closed building for a few minutes, then coming out. Mucous membranes in the nose produce more fluid than you ever thought possible. Some people throw up. By the time I finished grinding the roots, I was on the verge of throwing up. 

But I got the job done, and I even managed to take a picture…

You can't see the fumes, but they are there, and they are wicked.

If you go to the how-to link above, you will read this warning:

A ground up fresh horseradish is many times as potent as freshly chopped onions and can really hurt your eyes if you get too close. Keep at arms length away, and work in a well ventilated room.

Um, yeah. I think that's an understatement. If you endeavor to grind your own horseradish roots, don't make the same mistakes I made!

I will grind horseradish again. But the next time, I will do it outdoors. And if I use a cheap food processor, I will cut the tough roots (they were probably tougher than usual, having dried down in the fridge for four months) into much smaller chunks before feeding them into the mechanism.

I'm sure that many of you who read this have ground horseradish roots. What has your experience been? Do you have any helpful words of advice for me (and others who may read this)?

The finished product. I ended up with four hot pints of ground horseradish.


I like horseradish mixed with scrambled eggs. It's good on hamburgers and meatloaf too. Here's some interesting details about horseradish from the article in Heirloom Gardener magazine:

The heat in horseradish comes from a volatile compound, isothiocyanate, which, when oxidized by air and saliva, generates the hotness. Both mustard oil and horseradish contain isothiocyanate, which acts as a preservative and both have been shown to combat the food pathogens, E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and others when eaten on food. Some people claim eating a bit of horseradish clears out their sinuses. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommends horseradish as part of a healthy diet.


Unlike me, the man in the following picture knows what he's doing when it comes to grinding horseradish. Click This Link to see how they make horseradish at Saw Mill Site Farm in western Massachusetts.


65 Men & 30 Gallons 
of Horseradish Sauce!

Click Here to read a great story about a group of men in Ohio who grow horseradish and get together once a year for a horseradish-grinding party. It's old-fashioned community in action.


Tim said...

Been there done that, I found out the best place to process the Horseradish is out on the back deck.

Herrick Kimball said...

Hi Tim,

That's a good idea. I'm bringing next year's roots over to your house. :-)

Sharon said...

When I read the first few lines when this appeared on my blog list, including, "was the worst experience of my life", I started chuckling. I knew exactly what happened. I remember reading what Martha Stewart wrote about horseradish. Her dad would chop the horseradish outside the window while he stood inside with the window pane down over his arms, the fumes were that bad. I may have some of this wrong, it may have been her mother. But she included a strong warning of cutting up horseradish because of the fumes. So sorry this happened, but it makes for funny reading. :-)

sheila said...

Once it's ground it will lose it's heat stored in the refrigerator. The best way to preserve the quality of excess ground horseradish is to freeze it.

My Dad used to grind horseradish with a hand cranked grinder. The fumes would about kill us. Then he would put it in jars and pour vinegar over the horseradish. So good with boiled potatoes this time of year. Cleans out your sinuses for sure.

My Aunt used to make a fresh horseradish dill pickle using frozen horseradish that was amazing!

Sunnybrook Farm said...

I got into the same mess as you only with a hand grinder years ago. It is as close as I want to get to mustard gas. It might make a very effective home defense weapon if you could blast horse radish onto an invader!

Cynthia (C.L) Lewis said...

Good to know. We have a very plentiful patch of horseradish from the previous homeowner. My husband is the only one who likes it so I've left it alone so far but I've always intended to grind some up for the husband and to potentially sell.

Anonymous said...

My folks used to grind horseradish too and mom went temporarily blind after one incident. Live and learn :) Thanks for sharing your story though. It was entertaining :)

Anonymous said...

Love the stuff, especially with beef! I read a hint somewhere about training a small fan at your work area while peeling onions; I wonder if that'd work for horseradish?

David Smith

RonC said...

Funny...My son knows horseradish as Hot Mayonnaise. In his pre-reading days he grabbed the small Hellman's jar and slathered his sandwich full of "Mayo" and took a bite and screamed about the hot mayonnaise. I immediately thought about that memory when I read horseradish nightmare in your blog title. Thanks for the story. I'll be sure to do something like that outdoors if I ever attempt horseradish. Definitely not on my bucket list though.

Anonymous said...

Would it work to run the horseradish through your garbage disposal that you use for grinding apples? -John

Anonymous said...

Oh, this was a great story, Herrick! Been there, done that! It is definitely an outdoor activity.

But I would like to warn you that horseradish roots/plants are extremely INVASIVE. You don't have to replant anything -- if you have one tiny microscopic piece of root left in the ground, you will have a new plant from it. You can't kill the stuff. It will return again and again to haunt you! Just a friendly warning :)


Anonymous said...

Laughing... WITH you - done the same thing here. Lesson learned - do the processing OUTside. Although the gas mask idea might be a good one too. Horseradish is great stuff, except for the grating part. It's amazing how potent it is while you grind it, but when you put it in the jars, just a couple days later it's very mild. Vinegar does help it keep a little bit, but nothing like a fresh root.
We planted a *little* horseradish patch a couple years ago. It's now 8 feet long and 4 feet wide. And that's after trying to pick everything out. It's very prolific. But very worth it.

Everett said...

Hi Herrick, My Dad always had horseradish growing around the property and after I retired from the USN and came home, I decided to grind some up in a blender. Put it in with a shot of vinegar and fired off the blender. When it looked done, I took off the top and took a real good sniff to see if it was as I remembered it. Well, it immediately shut down my breathing and I passed out on the floor! My wife being a trained EMT proceeded to do the breathing trick for me. Said it was hard to push the air in past the closed up airway. Anyway it worked 'cause I'm still here. I DO NOT sniff the blender anymore till it has been set on the back porch for an hour or so!

Sheila said...

I have laughed until I can't breathe anymore.

My father loved horseradish but the rest of us never really got into it. That is until recently. I had some just because it had been years and years since I had tasted it for the first time. I really liked it! Of course I have had it in cocktail sauce, but that is very different from putting it on roast or on sandwiches.
Anyway, I want to thank you for posting this information, because I have been considering growing it this year, and now that I have some great safety measures, and growing tips, I can now try it out without fear of killing my sinuses or it taking over my garden.
Great Post!!! Still laughing, but very thankful too!
Bless, Sheila

Patrick Kyle said...

Many years ago my grandfather picked some horseradish that was growing in the ditch by our house. He ground it and put it in a jar in the refrigerator. ( He was a big fan of it and loved to put it on sandwiches.) I was about 11 or 12 at the time, and was interested to know how it had come out. He warned me as I was about to smell it. I failed to heed that warning and took a big whiff of it with my nose right in the jar. Felt like I had breathed pure flame. I never forgot that.

Ann from KY said...

My mother's dad started the Meyer's Horseradish Company. They sold horseradish, pickles and sauerkraut. My mom told me stories about helping make horseradish with the tears running down her face.
My grandpa is deceased, but I would love to ask him all about it. They sold the company years ago to a big corporation. He originally sold it in Finley Market in Cincinnati, OH.

Sharon said...

I tried to find what I read years ago about Martha Stewart. What I found was that her mother gave HER the job to cut up the horseradish outside. She "sobbed for a day". Here is a link. She begins talking about it at 4:09. Seems I read something like what I wrote above, though. Looks like a good recipe in the video!

Survival Gardener, AKA David the Good said...


Reminds me of when I made my own ground hot pepper. I dried the peppers, then chucked them into an espresso grinder and gave it a good run until the peppers were orange dust. The thing I didn't think about was how much airborne capsaicin would enter the air of the kitchen when I opened the top...

Anonymous said...

This is funny stuff :) I too add vinegar. I think that keeps the mix whiter longer. I use my vitamix machine and plan to do just one container full-- no multiple batches! I don't think I peeled the roots, just scrubbed well and cut out anything that offended me. I put the vinegar in, start it up, and add long pieces through the top. I plug it when I am getting tiny jars (half pint or so) ready and put a jar in the fridge and the rest in the freezer.
Sorry I can't add much to the conversation, but I will say it is a delightful addition to a hard roll and roasted venison.

Darren (Green Change) said...

I agree with the commenter above who recommended setting up a fan blowing across your workspace (and away from you!). I do this whenever I need to cut up a whole heap of onions (for school BBQs etc).

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness, I know exactly were you are coming from. I tried to do it in a blender one time and that was a very large mistake.

My nephew had grown some horseradish one year and it was his first time as well. He didn't have a food processor so proceeded to us an old cheese grater. He said when he was finished that he wasn't sure if he had more horseradish in the bowl or snot.