Cooking curiosity: What is a radish?

Cooking curiosity: What is a radish?Image credit: Radishes by Tim Sackton, on Flickr (modified). CC BY 2.0. 

It’s spring and that has me thinking… radishes. Yep, radishes fresh from the garden will be gracing the tables of home gardeners (if they can keep rabbits out of the garden long enough for the plants to grow) and those who take part in community supported agriculture.

I’ve been having visions of epic salads and treats like radishes with butter and salt, but I’ve also been curious. I know the radish is a vegetable, but what exactly is it?

What is a radish?

You probably already know that the radish is a root vegetable, but did you know the radish is part of the cabbage family? Me neither. You’re welcome. Here are some other facts to consider:

  • The radish is tolerant of cool temperatures, so you can plant the seeds early in the spring and have mature vegetables by late-May.
  • The radish is a bit of a prima donna and doesn’t like to get its feet wet, so make sure to plant radish seeds in well-drained soil in a sunny location.
  • Radishes grow from seed to mature vegetable very quickly, so you can get a spring and a fall harvest from your garden.
  • If you’re trying to avoid using pesticides in your vegetable garden, radish is known to be a good companion plant to cultivate in your garden. Apparently, its vegetable B.O. keeps insects away.

What do radishes taste like?

In the high-rolling circles I run in, the radish is always a welcome guest at the party. But, if you haven’t had the chance (or have simply refused) to try one, radishes have a pleasant crunch and can range from kind of earthy and sweet to having a peppery bite, depending on the variety.

What are the nutritional benefits of radishes?

The radish is a superfood, since it’s a member of the cabbage family. It’s a calorie bargain, too. If you can finish it, a cup of radishes contains about 20 calories. In that cup you’ll also get:

  • A powerful heart disease fighter – You’ll get healthy dose of vitamin C (about 30% of the recommended daily intake), to help lower your LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and potassium (close to 10% of your daily dose), which reduces your risk of developing high blood pressure.
  • Help maintaining a healthy nervous system – Radishes are a high folate food (seven percent of the recommended daily amount), which helps support healthy function of the brain and nervous system.
  • A healthy dose of color and cancer protection – Thanks to its high levels of the antioxidant vitamin C and compounds called isothiocyanates that may provide protection against several types of cancer.

How do you use radishes in cooking?

Cooking will reduce many of the nutritional benefits of the radish. If you’re looking to add radishes to your diet for good health, eat them raw. If you want to maximize your nutrition, the radish greens are edible, contain higher levels of several vitamins and minerals (notably vitamin C) than the roots and are fibertastic (they also add peppery deliciousness to a salad).

You can also roast, steam or saute radishes (my favorite cooked radish preparation). Add a little extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and you’ll have a delicious side dish.

What you about you? Do you relish the radish? What’s your favorite way to eat them?