Pesach (or Passover) is the Jewish holiday of freedom, commemorating the Israelites' exodus from slavery in Egypt. Each Spring, Jewish people from around the world recount Passover's watershed story of redemption at a festive meal called the Seder.
The centerpiece of this richly symbolic meal is the Seder plate. On the Seder plate there are five or six different Passover foods, each symbolizing a unique element of the Exodus story. At various points in the Seder (which means 'order' in Hebrew), participants eat these different foods to tangibly and gastronomically re-enact the events of the Exodus. Horseradish is a key herb - see our backgrounder below.
Foods on the Seder plate
1. Z'roa: A lamb shank represents a symbolic offering to the temple.
2. Beitzah: The egg is a symbol of rebirth.
3 Maror: Bitter herbs such as horseradish signify the bitterness of enslavement.
4 Karpas: A non-bitter vegetable, here parsley, is dipped in salted water to symbolize tears.
5. Haroset: A mixture of apple, nuts and wine that represents the mortar and bricks used by the enslaved Jews.
6. Hazeret: Another bitter herb, such as romaine lettuce. Some do not use a second bitter herb.
Background: Horseradish is a perennial plant of the Brassicaceae family which also includes mustard, wasabi, broccoli, and cabbage. It is a root vegetable that is used as a spice and has been valued for its medical and cooking qualities for centuries. It is also frequently used as a relish with meats or as a tartar sauce served with these foods.
History: The Egyptians knew about horseradish as early as 1500 B.C yet it is believed that horseradish originated in Central Europe. During the Renaissance the use of horseradish spread northward to Scandinavia and towards England. Later, horseradish became a popular condiment for beef and oysters among Englishmen. Early settlers brought horseradish to North America where they began to cultivate and use it throughout the colonies.
July is National Horseradish Month every year!
Ironically, horseradish is toxic to horses!
A jar of prepared horseradish will keep fresh for 4 to 6 months in your refrigerator, and will keep even longer in the freezer.
During the Jewish celebration of Passover, horseradish is commonly used as one of the five “bitter herbs.”