Radish, the awesome vegetable, not to be confused with a remarkable dish, or a thing that is semi “cool.”
I was first introduced to the radish as a child. It was always the red crunchy ball that my family had with our highly frequent servings of Kebab. I still remember the first time I encountered one. It looked interesting, and I’m no Sam-I-Am, so I tried it. Also, I wanted to be cool like the adults and eat my Kebab with radish too. At first bite, I was confused. Not what I expected, nor was I sure whether I liked it or not. It had sort of a kick to it, but very mild, kind of like watered down wasabi or something. I wasn’t a huge fan of the taste, but I really liked the texture. It was crunchy and watery, and had a neutralizing effect. It sort of acted like a pallet cleanser for me.
Fast forward to 2012. I volunteered at an elementary school to educate children on the health benefits of different fruits and vegetables. That day, one of the items the kids would be asked to taste-test was the radish. I was kind of surprised, but also excited to see how the kids would react once they tried the radish. Before then I had never thought of it as a healthy vegetable, just something we would eat as a side garnish. That day I learned that radishes are high in potassium and promote digestion. A lot of the kids really liked the taste, and had never heard of the vegetable, or thought to eat it with a salad or meal – and neither had I!
Fast forward to 2014. I started to see sliced raw radishes offered at various salad bars I went to in NYC. Every so often I would add radish instead of celery or cucumber to my salad for the watery crunch.
Rewind to 3 weeks ago. I went to get a salad from my favorite salad restaurant in NYC (Chop’t), and they had a new salad ingredient – pickled radishes. Never thought to pickle a radish, but it looked pretty, sounded awesome, and ended up tasting great too. Chop’t is known for putting thought, care and creativity into the food they select and offer; so, I knew there was a good reason they added the new item to the chopping menu. About a week later I offered to volunteer with a few Chop’t employees at a local garden in Harlem for an organization called Wellness in the Schools. Guess what vegetable we helped to seed in the garden? Yup…radishes.
Rewind to 1 week ago. I was listening to an online lecture about cooking methods, in which the instructor spoke about root-vegetables. He used the radish as an example, explaining their “sudsing” effect on the body. Turns out these suckers clean the inside of your body, and literally help you to burn and digest fat.
The radish was stalking me, so clearly I had to learn more about this vegetable. I had three questions at this point:
- How did this “sudsing” affect work exactly?
- What other health benefits did the radish have that I had yet to discover?
- Why had Chop’t decided to add the radish to their menu?
As my tag line points out, I am a curious health nut, and thus I was off to seek the answers to my questions.
Q&A #1: How did this “sudsing” affect work exactly?
Radishes scrub at mucous membranes in your body, helping to dissolve fat in the cells. The two minerals that support this function are the vegetable’s high levels of iron and magnesium. Radishes contain a variety of sulfur-based chemicals that increase the flow of bile and help cleanse stones and bile built up in the gallbladder. The gallbladder, in turn, helps support liver function, and a healthy liver purifies the blood, burns fat, and disposes of toxins from processed foods, medicines, alcoholic beverages, and environmental pollutants.
Historically, radishes have been used as a medicinal food for liver disorders and to prevent constipation. In the 18th century, radishes were viewed as “great relievers of the common cold, powerful fortifiers of digestion, and useful in breaking down kidney stones,” as stated in William Woys Weaver’s book 100 Vegetables and Where They Came From. Author Paul Pitchford in Healing With Whole Foods also cites how the cooling yet pungent radish are powerful detoxifiers that reduce inflammation, decrease mucus, and can help remove deposits and stones from the gallbladder.
Q&A #2: What other health benefits did the radish have that I had yet to discover? Here are just a few:
- Support cardiovascular and blood health. Radishes are a great source of anthocyanins, which have been positively linked to reducing the occurrence of cardiovascular disease, in addition to anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. The high potassium content in radishes also promotes cardiovascular health, as well as blood pressure.
- Naturally cooling and hydrating. Radishes are a naturally cooling food and can decrease excess heat in the body that can build up during the warmer months. Cool as a cucumber? Maybe switch things up and be cool as a radish. Their high water content also helps keep your body hydrated and your skin looking so fresh and so clean clean.
- Combat Colds and Symptoms. Their pungent flavor and natural spice (i.e., that “kick” I spoke of) can eliminate excess mucus in the body, clear sinuses, and soothe soar throats.
- Aid Digestion. Radishes are a natural cleansing agent for the digestive system, helping to relieve bloating and indigestion, as well as break down and eliminate stagnant food and toxins built up over time.
- Prevent viral infections. Because of their high vitamin C content and natural cleansing effects, regular consumption of radishes can help prevent viral infections.
- Eliminate Toxins and Cancer-Causing Free Radicals. Since radishes are detoxifiers and are rich in vitamin-C, folic and anthocyanins, they have been connected to treating many types of cancer, particularly colon, kidney, intestinal, stomach and oral cancers.
- Reduce Red Blood Cell Destruction and Treat Jaundice. Radishes remove bilirubin, keep its production at a stable level, and reduce the destruction of red blood cells that happens to people suffering from jaundice.
- Protect against cancers. As a member of the cruciferous vegetable family (same family as broccoli and cabbage) radishes contain phytonutrients, fiber, vitamins and minerals that are cancer protecting.
- Relives indigestion. Radishes have a calming effect on the digestive system and can help relieve bloating and indigestion.
- High in nutrients, low in calories. With a very low calorie count, less than 20 calories in an entire cup, radishes are a great way to add nutrients and fiber to meals. We already mentioned potassium, iron, and magnesium, but they also contain lots of vitamin C, phosphorus, and zinc.
Q&A #3: Why had Chop’t decided to add the radish to their menu?
I had the opportunity to speak with the company’s head chef and found my answer! The pickled radish is offered as a new salad topping or “chopping” because of their Santa Cruz “Destination Salad.” What are destination salads? Well, every 60 days Chop’t unveils 3 new salad specials that feature artisanal, all natural and local products. When it comes to selecting the right mix of ingredients to create the new salad specials, I learned that it takes quite the artistry and creativity. You have to use all facets of the food (e.g., it’s texture, aroma, flavor, acidity, etc.). Ultimately, this results in the creation of a salad that is palatable and relevant to the destination it is inspired by. They look to combine “ingredient and action” to provide the optimal taste and experience. To illustrate, imagine you are in Latin America, and you come across a little taqueria. You receive your taco with its savory meat, refreshing cilantro, and pickled radish and fresh squeezed lime drizzled across the top. And that’s how they discovered it!
And here we are today. In summary, the radish is very good for you, and particularly great for the spring and summer months…perfect timing. Now get out there and try it if you haven’t already. If you enjoy the taste, texture, and/or cleansing effect I highly recommend you incorporate into your salad, or have it with your next Kebab 🙂