The edible root vegetable, Raphanus sativus or more commonly known as the radish belongs to the Brassicaceae family. The radish is derived from the Latin word “radix” meaning “root”, while the biological name Raphanus means “quickly appearing”, a reference to their speed of germination.
Radishes are widely available around the world in numerous varieties with differing sizes, and colours. They range in size starting with ones that are half as large as a ping-pong ball to roughly 7 – 9 inches in length. Colours can range from red, pink, white, gray-black, and yellow. The classification of the different varieties is determined by the season they grow in. The Daikon, an elongated white variety, (Raphanus sativus var. Longipinnatus) which is popular in Asian cuisine is essentially a winter variety. The name comes from Japanese words dai (large) and kon (root), and is a part of every Japanese meal in some form or other. The small, round and red coloured variety, which is most commonly seen in the American and European markets, feature a sharp taste due to the mustard oils it contains and is typically used as garnish or in salads. It is more common in the summer.
Some varieties are grown for the root, others for the pod seeds and still others for their oil. While the root and seed pods are suitable for human consumption the oil is not. The oil has potential as a source of bio-fuel and the wild seeds contain as much as 48% oil content.
Radishes are so well known around the world that Mexicans have been celebrating a festival based on the veggie since 1897 called “Night of the Radishes”. For a few hours every year, on the 23rd of December, people dress up and exhibit sculptures made out of red radishes especially grown for the event. Some radishes can weigh as much as three kilograms (6.6 lb.) and become as big as 50 cm (20 in.)
History of Radishes
The beginnings of the radish and its domestication are not backed by any available archaeological records. Evidence of the wild radish, and its relatives the mustard and turnip, is seen over west Asia and Europe, indicating that initial domestication of this veggie took place in these areas.
The Chinese were growing radishes as far back as 700 B.C.E and were responsible for presenting them to the Japanese as a gesture of goodwill. Ancient Egyptian pharaohs cultivated the radishes next, and according to historical writings radishes were used in Egypt even before the construction of the pyramids was started. When the pyramids were being built, radishes were fed to the builders as they were thought to enhance muscle strength and endurance and they were even used as payment along with onions and garlic. Its seeds were minced for oil until olives took over.
The Greeks valued the radishes so much that replicas of the vegetable were created out of gold and offered to the God Apollo. The varieties used by Greeks and Romans were much larger, up to 100 lbs, and these were often stored for winter use. Radishes were frequently served with honey and vinegar.
Radishes were introduced to England in the early 1500s, and were mainly used as appetizers. They were flaunted as remedy for facial blemishes, kidney stones and intestinal worms. While they were not widely grown in the country until Elizabethan times they did find their way into Shakespeare’s Play Henry IV – ‘. . . when a’ was naked, he was, for all the world, like a forked radish, with a head fantastically carved upon it with a knife.’ (King Henry IV. Part II. Act iii. Sc. 2.)
Colonists carried radishes to the New Land and consumed them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Towards the end of 18th century a minimum of 10 varieties were being cultivated.
Health Benefits of Radishes
Radishes are recommended as an alternative cure for a large number of ailments such as gastric issues, whooping cough, constipation, dyspepsia, cancer, liver problems, arthritis, gall and kidney stones and intestinal parasites.
Research at the Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University in India indicates that radishes are effective against certain types of human cancer cells. According to results published in the 2010 September issue of “Plant Foods For Human Nutrition”, the compounds isothiocyanates found in radishes affect genetic paths of cancer-inducing cells thereby leading to their death.
The vitamin C in radishes helps to reconstruct tissues, blood vessels, provides immunity, and has antioxidant characteristics that reduce cell destruction and cut down of cancerous growths. Radishes are very useful as a treatment for jaundice as they eliminate bilirubin from the body and keep its production in check. They are good detoxifiers and play an important role in maintaining liver health. They also enhance the supply of oxygen to red blood cells, thus keeping red blood cell damage in check.
Radishes are a good source of potassium, calcium and manganese and low in sodium. Sodium is the source of high blood pressure while potassium, calcium and manganese are known to lower it. Hence, consumption of radishes can be good for regulating blood pressure. Since radishes are diuretic in nature, they aid in reducing inflammation and burning sensations that results from urinary disorders.
Radishes facilitate a healthy digestive system due to the roughage they provide. The fibre helps to retain water and cure constipation, and provide relief from piles. Furthermore, it keeps the stomach full longer without adding extra calories, which makes them a good part of any diet plan.
Nutritional Value of Radishes
Radishes are a great source of fibre. One cup of radishes delivers one gram of fibre, and while that may sound, according to the CDC this is 4% of the recommended daily intake. According to a Harvard School of Public Health report, fibre in your diet decreases the risk of diabetes, heart disease and colon cancer. It also provides four grams of carbohydrates and roughly as much potassium as you would get by eating one banana, without the calories! It also contains calcium, magnesium, riboflavin, copper phosphorous, iron, selenium and zinc.
Radishes do not lack in the vitamin department either. It supplies ample amounts of vitamin C. In fact the Centre for Disease Control states that a one cup serving of radishes supplies roughly 1/3 of the daily recommended needs of vitamin C. Additionally it supplies vitamin B and K.
Radishes also produce a compound known as Indole-3-carbinol (I3C). According to a study conducted at the University of Texas, this compound protects against hormonal related cancers like breast and cervical, and it is shows hepatoprotective activity. This means that it detoxifies the body and protects the liver1.
Uses of Radishes
Customarily radishes were consumed to promote appetite and warm up the palate for food, or as an accessory with drinks. Salt was provided as a dipping for radishes, and at times brown bread and butter were also added. This method of consumption is still good today. Here are a few other ways to enjoy radishes:
- Roasting. Slice radishes and sprinkle with salt and lightly drizzle with olive oil. Pre-heat the oven to 450°F and cook for 15 to 20 minutes for great tasting veggie chips.
- Go French. Thinly slice the radishes and coat with sweet butter and light sea salt. Even though this adds some fat content, it is delicious!
- Stir Fry. To give your stir fries some bulk, add chopped radishes to chicken stir fry with spices of choice.
- Pickled. Measure out 6 tablespoons rice vinegar, 4 tablespoons of sugar and cut a two inch ginger matchstick and put aside. Take about fourteen radishes and cut them into quarters and salt with a teaspoon and half of salt. Allow them to stand for half an hour in a bowl. In the meantime, heat the sugar in the vinegar until it dissolves. Remove from the heat. Drain the radishes and add to the sugar/vinegar mixture, toss in the ginger and marinate in a refrigerator for approximately two hours before serving.
Traditionally radishes are known to provide a broad range of health benefits; however, actual studies that support these claims are few and far between.
A vast majority of the health benefits are based on consumption observations instead of actual clinical trials. Increased interest in the vegetable has led to more in-depth studies.
In a Japanese study, radish extract was found to improve blood glucose levels in animals. A fat-soluble radish extract was found to suppress insulin secretion and improve fat metabolism in normal animals while a water-soluble radish extract lowered the blood glucose levels without raising the insulin levels.
In a separate study healthy animals fed with a diet of radish sprout for twenty one days had lower levels of total cholesterol, triglycerides, phospholipids, glucose and insulin. This means that consumption of radishes (or sprouted radish seeds) may help to maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Additionally, regular administration of red radish to hypertensive rats helped to reduce their blood pressure.