The Translation Error That's Responsible For Horseradish's Name

If you've wondered what horses have to do with horseradish, know that you are not alone. The curiously named ingredient has sent researchers hunting for answers to find the exact semantic origins of this ancient plant — and whether or not horses had anything to do with it (note that horseradish shouldn't be fed to a horse, as it is poisonous for them, and really, horses weren't involved with the naming of the root, either).

The plant itself can be traced back to as far as 1500 B.C., and Egyptians, Greeks, and Jews have long used the ingredient to cure ailments and flavor foods, yet the current name is often linked to Central Europeans. Speakers of German referred to horseradish as "meerrettich," a term that means a radish that grows near the sea. This is where language understanding and translations of words become muddled, as those unfamiliar with German used "mareradish" to describe the ingredient. The linguistic mistake held, since horseradish is a somewhat accurate descriptor for a root that is large in size and coarse in texture, not unlike a mare or a horse. 

Pinpointing the origins of the genus name of horseradish, Armoracia rusticana, can also be a bit of a hunt. Armoracia is thought to be a derivative of Armorica, a French peninsula where horseradish can be found freely. Aremoricus also references locations by the sea, which could have helped cement the commonly used name. Armoracia refers to wild radish, while Rusticana is a term that describes something taken from the countryside or rural places.

An ingredient that is off to the races

Regardless of the exact linguistic background of the ingredient, horseradish's popularity grew as travelers and traders carried the root with them. Cooks in Scandinavia and the United Kingdom began pairing the pungent ingredient with dishes, and eventually, the root was taken to North America, where an entire industry dedicated to the packaging and production of horseradish has blossomed.

Now that we have the naming issue out of the way — rest assured horseradish is packed with vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants to punch up your meals. Though the name might cause some confusion, the ingredient can add a quick and flavorful boost to your recipes, like upgrading a simple French dip sandwich with horseradish mayo or up-leveling braised beef dinners with the fresh root. Even Martha Stewart folds grated horseradish into applesauce. Nippy flavor packed with plenty of health benefits? Horseradish is a culinary win equivalent to a Triple Crown, no horses required.