Scandinavian Horseradish

Scandinavian Horseradish

Horseradish is to the Scandinavian kitchen what chili is to the south and east. Its hot flavor, high vitamin content and very potent anti-inflammatory effect have probably done more to keep us alive than any other food in the north during cold or wet winter months when there are few other greens to choose from. Learn more about Scandinavian horseradish below.

How it grows
Horseradish is a perennial that grows wild all over the northern hemisphere in fertile soil. It’s a handsome, big-leaved plant to cultivate in a wild corner of the garden. It spreads vigorously by seed, but young plants are easy to remove – and eat.

Both the fragrant, white flowers and the roots are edible. The only problem when growing it is harvesting the roots if you want them whole. The taproots are up to 60cm long, and you may have to settle for smaller bits of it, unless you grow it as the professionals do: at a sharp angle, almost lying down, in extremely loose soil. But less will do – a short piece of horseradish root is enough for paper-thin shavings for a whole family. There are no cultivars available, but even wild plants show huge variation.

Scandinavian Horseradish
Horseradish is a perennial that grows wild all over the northern hemisphere in fertile soil. Photo: Asmund Asdal/Nibio

Related: Scandinavian Herbs

Appearance and taste
Horseradish, as a spice, is primarily a huge root, and the fresher it is, the more powerful the flavor. Grating horseradish can make you weep as the volatile oils are very pungent. The one growing in your garden or gathered from the wild is bound to be more flavorsome than industrially grown horseradish. The outer layers of the root are generally milder, the core more pungent.

Health benefits
This hot and spicy vegetable contains lots of vitamins and a very potent anti-inflammatory. In fact, it kills gems so effectively that it’s always included in pickles, doing the job perfectly while adding pungency and flavor.

Scandinavian Horseradish
Celery soup with horseradish and chives. Photo: Kiwi

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Buying and storing
Fresh horseradish can be very difficult to find in shops, but beware of the convenient, ready-grated kind. This has absolutely no flavor, which is not so convenient after all. Fresh roots will keep for weeks in a plastic bag in the fridge.

Culinary uses
Horseradish is either grated very finely to go in a cream or sauce, or shaved extremely thinly to top sandwiches, fish or meats, or to make a relish. The shavings tend to be sweeter and mor flavorsome the finer the root is grated. As with chili, you have to wait a while after adding it to a dish to taste the full effect, especially in cold sauces such as the classic horseradish cream for smoked fish. It may be mild to start with, but given half an hour the flavor will develop.

Scandinavian Horseradish
Rye bread with egg, caviar and horseradish. Photo: Mills

Horseradish is cherished as an accompaniment for plain baked or boiled lean fish with butter sauce. It is served with all kinds of cold cuts, with smoked meat and fish, for steak tartare and for the lovely traditional sweet-sour horseradish sauce eaten with the boiled meats from the festive soup, hønsekødsuppe.

Related: Scandinavian Poor Man’s Asparagus

Horseradish is also the classic dance partner for all kinds of beetroot preparations; in salads, relishes and with pickled beetroot, the earthy sweetness of the beet is perfectly balanced by spiky horseradish.

Horseradish has only one flaw, its taste and effects do not stand up to high temperatures. Therefore, it should be added at the very last moment to a sauce or dish, or simply shaved on top – otherwise the taste will vanish, leaving drenched and bitter wood-like shavings.

Scandinavian Horseradish
Smoked salmon with horseradish. Photo: Norwegian Information Office for Bread and Grains

Smoked salmon with horseradish cream

200ml crème fraiche
4 tablespoons finely grated horseradish
A pinch of sea salt
A pinch of sugar
8 slices cold-smoked salmon (preferably wild)
1 bunch of fresh dill
4 slices sourdough bread


Mix together the crème fraiche, grated horseradish, salt and sugar. Ideally, let the sauce sit for half an hour to bring out the flavor.

You can serve the dish in two ways. Either spread the horseradish cream directly on to four plates, put the slices of salmon on top and decorate with dill, serving the bread on the side. Or spread some of the cream on the bread, arrange the salmon on top and put another blob of the horseradish cream on top, followed by a sprinkling of dill.

Scandinavian Horseradish, written by Tor Kjolberg

Feature image (on top): Photo by Bama