I’d like to take a moment to put the radish in the much-needed spotlight. Sure, those little red globes are a staple of the store-bought veggie platter, but in my experience at social functions, the poor radish is usually among the last vegetables left rolling around the plate at the end of the night (along with that other, always-picked-last-for-the-team platter regular, the cauliflower). Perhaps a bit more background to the Raphanus sativus will make it more appealing in your next interaction with party food.
The name radish is derived from the Latin word radix, meaning root, a fitting name for a vegetable whose taproot is the most commonly eaten part (though the leaves of the radish plant are also edible and might feature nicely as a garnish on salad or soup). It is classified as part of the Brassicacae, or mustard, family, meaning that some of its better-known cousins include broccoli, cabbage, and turnip.
eating pungent radish and drinking hot tea, let the starved doctors beg on their knees
Try to commit the title of this section to memory; it’s a genuine (and wise) Chinese proverb. Forget an apple a day; crunch into a radish instead, or so advised ancient Chinese medical practice. Today, the health benefits of the radish are primarily promoted on the basis of being a diet food, as some have deemed it “the one calorie snack.” No need to fear guilty snacking when you choose a handful of radishes, as one half-cup of the stuff will add a mere 10 calories to you daily intake.
Despite being an extremely low-calorie food, radishes provide nutritional benefits. That same half-cup will give you 15% of your daily value of vitamin C, which helps your body scavenge harmful free radicals, prevent cancers and inflammation, and boost immunity. You can also expect to get a bit of dietary fiber, too, for which your gastrointestinal tract will surely thank you. Finally, the sharp, peppery taste of radishes not only gives your salads an exciting kick, it can also be effective in relieving congestion in the respiratory system. For those who suffer from asthma, bronchial infections, and sinus problems, incorporating a few slices of radishes every once in a while may deliver a welcomed relief.
Historically, radishes haven’t changed much since they were first cultivated thousands of years ago in China. Civilizations in Egypt and Greece subsequently picked up on the radish trend, and with zeal. In Greece, radishes were so highly regarded that artists cast gold replicas of the vegetable. Similarly in Egypt, pharaohs used radishes, along with onions and garlic, to pay wages to the laborers who built the pyramids. Western Europeans lagged sadly behind, however; the radish did not make its way to England until the 16th century.
A vestige of the radish devotion of Hellenistic and Roman culture survives today in the town of Oaxaca, Mexico. Once a year, on December 23, the town celebrates Noche de Rabanos, or “Night of the Radishes.” The festival features an exhibition of sculptures by professional craftsmen and aficionados—all created from radishes. Some common radish art themes include complete nativity scenes, party scenes, models of real buildings, and saints.
a rainbow of radishes
If you’ve taken note of radishes at your local market or grocery store, you may have noticed that radishes come in an incredible variety of sizes, shapes and colors. Broadly speaking, the vegetable can be categorized into four main types: summer, fall, winter, and spring. Though the radish is available all year round in most places, its peak season occurs during winter and spring.
A few of the most popular varieties to look out for as you fill your grocery cart:
- red globe: most popular in US; small, round, and, well, red
- black: turnip-like in size and shape; black skin; particularly pungent (if you’re not used to its bite, it’s recommended that you peel this one)
- daikon: refers to a wide variety of radishes from Asia; elongated icy-white roots
- watermelon: an (awesome) heirloom daikon radish; creamy white to pale green skin with magenta flesh (thus the watermelon moniker)
- white icicle: white and carrot-shaped
- French breakfast: elongated red-skinned radish with a white splash at the root-end (see photos below this section!)
- Easter egg: not a true variety but a clever marketing technique; typically a combination of white, pink, red and purple radishes
Now do you see how interesting the radish can be? So go find those veggie platters and reclaim the radish!
Stay tuned for radish recipes!