The root is harvested in the spring and fall and sold in 1,200-pound pallets to processors who grate the root, releasing the volatile oils that distinguish horseradish from all other flavors. The ground horseradish is then mixed with distilled vinegar to stabilize the “heat”. This basic formula, which varies from processor to processor, may also contain spices or other ingredients – salt, sugar, cream or vegetable oil. But generally speaking, horseradish and vinegar are the primary constituents in the basic prepared horseradish on the market today.
In the United States, an estimated 24 million pounds of horseradish roots are ground and processed annually to produce approximately 6 million gallons of prepared horseradish – enough to generally season enough sandwiches to wrap 12 times around the world. In addition to the most popular basic prepared horseradish, a number of other horseradish products are available, including cream-style prepared horseradish, shredded horseradish, horseradish sauce, beet horseradish and dehydrated horseradish. Cocktail sauce, cheese, specialty mustards and many other sauces, dips, spreads, hummus, relishes and dressings also may contain horseradish.
Each May, horseradish is celebrated at the International Horseradish Festival in Collinsville, Illinois. Events include a root toss, a horseradish-eating contest and a horseradish recipe contest. Beginning in 1988, the festival was designed to create national awareness for the herb and the area where most of the world’s supply is grown, according to festival organizers. Collinsville and the surrounding area is part of what is known as the “American Bottoms”, a Mississippi river basin area adjacent to St. Louis. Carved-out by the glaciers from the ice age, the soil is rich in potash, a nutrient on which the horseradish thrives. The area grows 60 percent of the world’s supply. German immigrants to the area began growing horseradish in the late 1800s and passed their growing methods from generation to generation. The area’s cold winters provide the required root dormancy and the long summers provide excellent growing conditions.