Radish varieties – as different as chalk and cheese!
Last month we had a generic look at this ancient vegetable; where it came from and how to grow it. It is super easy to grow, tastes great and can be used in a wide range of food styles and is good for you. What we didn’t examine was the huge range of cultivars.
There are a many opinions on where Radish (Raphanus sativus) comes from. This is not surprising for a vegetable that has been in cultivation for over 3000 years. Similarly the range of cultivars is extensive with over 100 documented forms. Some divide then into their ideal fruiting season but this is deceptive as a cultivar that ripens well in summer in a cool temperate climate will ripen in spring in the tropics. Others divide them into their origin, ie Asian, French, American but this has little bearing on the variety. Others sort them based on the shape, long, flat, round and others group them into their colour styles, red outer-white inner. Personally I say why bother – a radish is a radish?
Some varieties are quite large in fact the world’s largest ever grown is around 40kgs. Grown mostly for show it wouldn’t of had that nice sweet peppery flavour. If you were going to group them it would be best done in the way they are used, salad, baking, paste etc. This is also the best way to approach any decent look at the cultivars. One of the classic varieties is Daikon.
Daikon is a variety of the common radish, Raphanus sativus var longipinnatus that is popular in the cuisines of China, Japan and Korea. It has come to western food mainly through the Japanese community and is deceptively called ‘Japanese Radish’. It is as popular in other Asian foods as it is in Japan. The most appropriate common name is Large White Asian Radish as most forms are white and quite large – know to achieve weights well in excess of 20kg.
The name comes from the Japanese and means ‘ big root’ although this is not 100% correct as the English version of several Asian languages comes out as Dai kon, or similar. It usually refers to a long white radish although there are some more globe shaped forms. The most common variety is white inside and out, around 15cm long and 4cm wide.
It is a common part of the Japanese food palette. It is a key ingredient of a Japanese New ear dish, eaten with Ponzu and grated as a side dish for Tempura. It is pickled and used as one of the Kimchi dishes in Korean cuisine and is now finding multiple uses in the Western diet – in salads, on te BBQ and baked.
Another separate variety is Rhaphanus sativus niger or the Black Radsh. As our palettes and eating habits mature the saying that we ‘eat with our eyes’ is becoming more important in recipe design and food preparation. Colour is a major part of the visual stimulus in our food and true black ingredients is still unusual. The Black Radish has a dark charcoal black skin with a pure white flesh. Finely sliced and used as a garnish will add style to almost any dish. It also comes in several forms from round to elongated and can vary from 50mm round to in 35 diameter and 120mm long.
There are several green cultivars that have deep green skin in the part of the root that sits above the soil and white in the lower part. These are less peppery than your common red varieties. Luobo is an attractive variety that is popular in Chinese cooking.
The range in red cultivars is extensive some look like red carrots and are often called ‘Red Daikon’ and are common in China. There is a bright red form from Italy that looks like an underground chilli. It is an heirloom variety and is called ‘Fire Candle’ Finely sliced and thrown into a green salad will give a chilli appearance without the heat.
There are mixes that are available which have a range of colours. Look for one called Rainbow which will have red, white, yellow and pink forms. There are also some cultivars grown for their above ground parts. A classic group is the Rat Tail forms. These have interesting seed pods that look like ‘rattails’. These are Raphanus sativus caudatus and the pods can be used in way you would green beans plus also raw in salads. They have a sweet mild peppery flavour and are high in nutrients. They should be planted in early autumn and harvested prior to the first frosts.
Like so many of our common vegetables, Radish has range of flavours, types and uses that are well outside our normal usage. Look for some of these in your local garden centre and give them a go.