Master Gardener: Radishes

Radishes are a very old vegetable. They were grown throughout Europe before the Romans arrived. They grew in the colder Northern European climates, and some types stored well through the cold winter. They are very nutritious and add flavor and seasoning to many dishes. There’s a history of radishes tracing back to ancient India, Asia, and Japan and experts think wild radishes probably come from Asia. They are related to the brassica family of vegetables, so they’re cousins of cabbages, broccoli and other sharp-tasting, strong-smelling, cold weather good-for-you crops.

Upon researching this subject I was amazed at all of the information on the ‘lowly’ radish. They are popular vegetables, valued for their distinctive flavor and crunchy texture. They can be spicy or mild, round or oblong, big or small, with radish varieties available in colors ranging from reddish-purple to rosy pink, black, pure white, or green. I also found most radishes fall into three categories: Round roots, Icicle types, and winter radish. How many types of radishes are there? There are hundreds of different types of radishes worldwide.

Below are some of the most common types of radish:

• Sparkler – A round, bright red radish with a distinctive white tip; all white inside.

• Cherry Belle – This round, red radish is a common variety often found in your local supermarket. It is delicious in salads. These are what pop to most people’s minds when they think “radish.” The most common variety is red, but they also come in shades from white to pink to purple. When sold in a mixed bunch they are often marketed as “Easter radishes” for their resemblance to dyed Easter eggs.

• White Beauty – A small, round radish with a sweet, juicy flavor. White inside and out.

• French Breakfast – Mild, extra-crunchy, slightly pungent radish is good raw or cooked. French radishes are slightly elongated versions of round radishes. They tend to have a milder flavor than round versions, but their level of sharp bite varies tremendously.

• Early Scarlet Gold – a juicy, crispy-tender heirloom variety with a round shape, red skin and white flesh.

• Daikon Long White – Daikon are huge radishes that can reach lengths of 18 inches, measuring 3 inches in diameter. Daikon radishes are the most commonly available large radish variety. They are often pickled or  dried,  but are delicious grated into soups or added to roasted or braised vegetables. They aren’t usually eaten  raw. Freshly harvested daikon have a softer flavor  and  their greens are equally edible used  as  salads, added to a stir-fry, or tossed into soups.

• Fire and Ice – Appropriately named oblong radish with bright red on the top half and pure white on the bottom half; sweet, mild and delicate in flavor and texture.

• White Icicle – this variety is off white, cylindrical roots average 5″ long, flesh is white and crispy, mildly pungent, ready in 35 days, resembles white carrots.

• Watermelon Radish – named for an obvious reason – they have a green skin and brilliant red-pink interior. This variety reaches baseball size and looks much like a miniature watermelon. The flavor is slightly peppery.

• Black radishes – are heirloom radishes that are significantly more peppery than the red radish. They also take about two to three times longer to mature than the common red radish. There are two varieties: a round radish that looks much like a black turnip and a long one, which is cylindrical and can grow to about 8 inches long. The long variety is more pungent than the round but both have flesh that is crisp, white and peppery. You can remove the black peel to remove some of the spiciness. Unlike the common radish cousin, black radishes can be stored long after harvest.

• Green Monster – this radish looks like a lime and is sometimes called a lime radish. The taste is an intense kick and is compared to horseradish with wasabi heat. Used to make a strong kimchi or slaw and is usually eaten with fatty meats.

• Horseradish – Yes, horseradish is a type of radish. Bright and pungent, fresh horseradish perks up a meal (without the bitter aftertaste found in jarred versions). Horseradish is harvested in the fall and stores well over winter.