This spicy root actually has quite a few health benefits. Here’s why you should add it to more than just your Bloody Mary.
You know that spicy, potent root that seems to burn your sinuses when you grate it up in the kitchen, rub on a pastrami sandwich, or use in a Bloody Mary? Well that’s horseradish, and while it may make you cry when you’re near it, it’s actually pretty good for you—and tasty, too!
Horseradish comes from the large, white root of the horseradish plant, and it’s in the mustard family, along with standard mustard and wasabi, as well as cruciferous vegetables. It’s often seen in Russian dressing and other sauces and condiments, and it can be pretty overwhelming on the palate. (Using some mayo with it can make it more mild and smooth.)
Yet beyond its taste, it actually has some notable benefits. Here’s why nutritionists love using horseradish in their cuisine, and why you should, too.
It Might Lower Your Cancer Risk
While more research needs to be conducted, horseradish might have anti-carcinogenic properties. “Allyl isothiocyanate, responsible for the heat in horseradish, was shown to be useful in preventing bladder cancer, as well as other cancers. [And] Glucosinolate and sinigrin have the added benefit of chemoprotective compounds in horseradish,” says Beth Warren, MS, RDN, CDN founder of Beth Warren Nutrition and author of Secrets of a Kosher Girl.
While these benefits may be more readily available in others foods from the mustard family, like broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, horseradish still contains these anti-cancer properties, too.
It’s an Antibacterial
Horseradish might help improve immunity, as it contains key nutrients, like calcium, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus, as well as fiber, says Warren. What’s more, it also has vitamin C and volatile oils, such as mustard oil, which can boost the immune system due to anti-viral properties that fight infection, she explains. In fact, a study in Antioxidant Properties of Spices, Herbs and Other Sources showed that horseradish has antioxidant and antibacterial uses, thanks to its source of glucosinolates.
It’s a Great Flavor Enhancer
While the medical benefits might not be 100 percent solid, there’s no doubt that the flavor of horseradish is awesome. “I love to boost the flavor of my food by using fresh herbs and spices in lieu of the pre-made sauces and condiments that often contained excess sodium and other hidden ingredients,” says Elizabeth Ann Shaw, MS, RDN, CLT, CPT.
“The spicy kick pairs really well with a Greek yogurt based dip I make and we've been using it in our house on everything from sandwiches to salads (thinned out with a little bit of vinegar!),” she says. Just use sparingly, as it’s strong.
Want to try out more recipes with horseradish? Try these delicious picks:
It May Ease the Respiratory System
When it comes to horseradish and its effects on the respiratory system, more research is needed, but there’s some evidence from earlier studies that this root may have similar effects to antibiotics in treating bronchitis and sinusitis.
“One study showed that taking the Angocin Anti-Infekt N compound containing horseradish root and nasturtium by mouth for about 7-14 days reduced the symptoms of acute bronchitis [and sinusitis] as effectively as antibiotics,” says Warren. This may be due to its antibacterial properties.
It Prevents Loading Up on Unhealthy Foods
If you’re using horseradish, you likely don’t need tons of added salts, sugars, and fats to go with it, as there’s already so much spiciness and flavor going on. It’s a good way to ditch sugary dressings and sauces in favor of something healthy.
“One tbsp of prepared horseradish has only 7 calories, no fat, 1.7g carbs, 1.2g of natural sugar—the taste is tart, tangy and quickly turns to a deep, warm heat that you feel in the back of your nose,” says cookbook author, registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer Dana Angelo White, MS, RD ATC.
“Horseradish is a favorite of mine, nothing gives you that deep sinus sting quite like it. I am lucky enough to get fresh horseradish root from my local CSA. It's a bit of a process to ‘prepare’ it, which involves scrubbing, peeling (wear gloves!) and chopping in a food processor with some salt and vinegar but it's so worth the effort,” she says. (Or you can buy pre-made and save yourself the hassle.)
“It’s a fun condiment to have on hand for healthy cooking. I love how just a tiny amount can add a ton of one-of-a-kind flavor to sauces, marinates, and of course a good Bloody Mary,” she says.
It May Minimize Fluid Retention
“One of the powerful glycosides found in horseradish, sinigrin, helps relieve the symptoms of water retention, because of its stimulating effect on the blood capillaries,” says Warren. That means you might feel less bloated and have greater circulation if horseradish is a staple in your diet. “Horseradish is known as a rubefacient, which stimulates blood flow below and to the surface of the skin,” she adds. Still, more research is needed here, too.