The radish is one of the most widely distributed vegetables on Earth, although there is little archaeological evidence to pinpoint where it all began. However, scientists seem to think it originated in South East Asia, as that is the only place where truly wild forms are still being discovered.
The name radish is derived from the Latin words ‘radix’ meaning root, and ‘raphanus’ meaning easily grown. However, radishes are really a swollen stem rather than a root even though they grow underground. There are many varieties of radish that vary in size, shape, flavour and colour. Popular modern varieties include the Cherry Belle (the type commonly found in supermarkets), the White Icicle and the daikon long white – used pickled, mainly in Asian cooking. One German botanist in 1544 claimed a radish of 45kg and 90cm in length, but the only modern radish that grows anywhere near that size is the Japanese Sakurajima radish – a relative of the daikon.
When purchasing radishes, you should look for firm flesh with a bright colour and smooth, unblemished skin. The leaves, if they're still attached, should be fresh, green and not wilted. Avoid oversized red radishes as these can be woody or pulpy. Radishes are available all year round. Purchase radishes with the New Zealand GAP logo.
To store, remove the tops and refrigerate in a plastic bag. Use promptly. When preparing, remove the green tops (if not already removed), scrub and rinse, and trim the thin tip of the root.
Red radishes can be eaten raw as a snack, in salads and sandwiches or used as a garnish. Eat daikon raw, boiled, roasted, baked or stir-fried. They are used in Asian cooking and often pickled.
Radishes, like many salad vegetables, have high water content and are therefore not nutrient dense. They are not consumed in high enough amounts to make a significant contribution nutritionally with the exception of vitamin C. The main phytonutrients in radishes are the glucosinolates (also found in broccoli and cabbage) and anthocyanins in the red skin varieties, which is what gives the radish its sharp flavour.
Head Chef Casey McDonald of Craggy Range in the Hawke's Bay uses radishes in his dish, pickled vegetables with housemade butter and ciabatta.