Radishes probably aren’t something you spend a great deal of time thinking about. You will most often see them used as garnishes, incorporated in many types of salads to add extra crunch and a bit of extra bite, and sometimes find them used in various kinds of cooking mainly for the same purpose. If asked to name specific types of radishes, however, unless you are a gardener or a chef, you will very likely find yourself drawing a blank.
There are hundreds of different types of radishes, and they come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, colors, textures, and flavors. A sturdy and highly adaptable plant, radishes will grow in most non-tropical climates. Some varieties are among the fastest-growing vegetables on the planet – several types will take less than a month from germination until they are ready to be harvested and eaten.
While the radish probably originated in Southeast Asia and China (no one is certain), the earliest record of specific human cultivation is in Central Europe in the 3rd century BC. They were one of the first vegetables brought to the New World. They arrived with the early Spanish explorers, who probably used them to combat scurvy during their long voyages due to their durability and relatively high vitamin C content.
Today, about 7 million tons of radishes are commercially cultivated throughout the world each year. They are also among the most popular vegetables with home gardeners due to their ease of growing and harvesting, quick harvest time, and natural resistance to insects and disease. In some cases, radishes are planted as a companion or ‘trap’ plant to other vegetables – particularly peas, cucumbers, and lettuce – as their odor will often keep aphids, worms, beetles, and other pests away from the more delicate ‘main’ crop.
At their most basic, radishes are the edible root of members of the Raphanus raphanistrum genus of flowering plants. While the most flavorful (and commonly consumed) part is the ‘tap root’ portion of the root system, the entire plant – including the rest of the root, leaves, seeds, and stems – can be eaten. Radishes are most often consumed raw, although some more challenging varieties will stand up to cooking. The seeds of some types of radishes are pressed to extract their oil, which is used as a biofuel component.
So let’s look at some of the more common types of radishes on the market today.
When many of us think of radishes, the image that pops into our mind is the Cherry Belle. Among the most widely grown and available radishes in the United States, the Cherry Belle is a round radish common in supermarkets and very popular with vegetable gardeners primarily due to its highly fast-growing time – in some cases, as little as 23 days.
The aptly-named Cherry Belle radish has a smooth, vibrantly bright cherry-red skin. Usually reaching between 1 and 3 inches in diameter, it is a relatively small to medium-size radish with a crisp, firm, snowy white flesh and a mild, slightly sweet flavor. The Cherry Belle is an ‘early’ radish usually available throughout the spring and summer months. Because of their mild flavor and relatively low acidity are widely used in green salads and as a garnish for cooked dishes. The Cherry Belle is a very sturdy vegetable, not particularly well suited to cooking or steaming. It can last for months after it is picked if stored in the crisper section of the refrigerator.
Another prevalent variety both with home growers and on supermarket shelves, White Icicles are also known as Lady Finger and White Italian radishes and grown in Europe since the 1600s. White both inside and out, the White Icicle is a fairly quick-growing (about 27 days), elongated radish. Shaped somewhat like a carrot, White Icicles will typically grow to between 4 and 6 inches in length – although some gardeners and commercial growers will sometimes postpone harvesting for a week or two to get a larger vegetable. They also grow better than many radish varieties in hotter climates.
White Icicles have tender, juicy flesh, and a slightly spicy flavor. Often used in various salads and relishes, this radish also stands up well for cooking and is widely used in stir fry dishes. The White Icicle is also often roasted – which brings out its natural sugars and gives it a sweeter taste – and used in stews in some parts of the world.
Also known as the Flambeau, the French Breakfast radish was first introduced to the vegetable markets of Paris in the late 1870s; its name comes from the fact that vegetable dealers would often snack on them (after dipping them in salt and butter) in the morning hours. Quite popular throughout Europe and North America, this radish grows well in warmer climates and is widely cultivated commercially year-round throughout the Mediterranean region.
The French Breakfast radish will usually be an elongated, oblong shape (although they will also sometimes be round) and grow between 2 and 4 inches in length. The white flesh is typically white at the end and reddening as it reaches the tip; the white flesh has a very crisp texture and a mildly spicy flavor. Sometimes eaten whole on their own, particularly in parts of Europe, or served with cheese-based dips, these radishes are often used in hardier salads, pasta dishes, and soups. They are also sometimes lightly grilled or roasted, which gives them a distinctive nutty flavor.
Widely grown throughout Asia for centuries and enjoying a moderately increasing popularity in the Western World in recent years, Daikons are a family of radishes that are primarily cultivated in China, India, Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia. Varying in size and shape usually based on where they are grown (the Chinese White Daikon, for example, will sometimes grow to over a foot and a half long and 3 inches in diameter), Daikon radishes are most often an elongated radish that will range in color from white to deep purple.
Considered a ‘winter’ radish, Daikons tend to have a mild, slightly sweet flavor and a quite crunchy white or pinkish flesh. They are frequently used in stir fry dishes, spring and eggrolls, and sushi in China and Japan. In India, they are pretty popular in curries (where their natural sweetness is used to offset some harsher spices), while in Korea, they are often pickled and used to make kimchi. They are also sometimes used as an ingredient of certain coleslaws and salads.
Believed to have originated in the Mediterranean in the late 17th century and sometimes called the White Tip, the Sparkler is a small, firm, round radish popular throughout Western Europe and the United States. Rarely growing to more than half an inch in diameter, the Sparkler will usually have a cherry-red or pinkish color that tapers to pure white as it nears the tip. Another quick-growing radish, the Sparkler, has a firm, crisp white flesh with a sweet, earthy, mild flavor. Excellent for use in salads and as garnishes, Sparkers are also eaten on their own with butter and salt in parts of Europe.
A type of Daikon radish that originated in China (called the Shinrimei), the Watermelon radish has increased in popularity in the United States in the last few decades as much for its appearance and taste. This aptly named radish resembles a watermelon in everything except its size. It has white to greenish-white skin and a beautiful, vibrant watermelon-pink or rose-colored flesh. A round or slightly oblong radish, the Watermelon will often grow to over 3 inches in diameter and has a firm, crunchy flesh that is sweet with just a hint of peppery flavor. Widely used as a garnish, this radish adds a unique flavor to salads and stands up to cooking well – mainly roasting.
Another radish that can trace its roots (so to speak) to the Mediterranean region, the Snowball, has been popular in Europe – particularly France and Spain – for centuries. Also sometimes called the Snow Globe, the Snowball is a medium-size round radish that will range from 1 to 3 inches in diameter. The skin and the very crisp flesh of this radish are pure white, and it has a particularly spicy, peppery taste. While not usually eaten on its own, the Snowball is very popular in cold and cooked dishes and salads where a little extra ‘zing’ is needed. While the Snowball does require a bit more attention when growing than some other radishes – particularly during harvest, as late harvest can result in the vegetable becoming too spicy – it is a reasonably long-lasting radish. It should keep for several weeks when refrigerated uncut.
Cultivated in the Mediterranean and Southern Europe since the middle of the 15th century and quite possibly one of the first radishes to make its way to the New World, the Black Spanish is a round radish that will typically grow to between 3 and 4 inches in diameter. This radish has a black (hence the name) or very dark brown skin and crisp white flesh with an exceptionally hot and spicy flavor. Not usually used in salads, in large part due to its size, the Black Spanish is often served as a cooked vegetable to accompany spicier meat dishes, used in soups, and sliced and served raw with creamy dips. The Black Spanish radish has also been used in traditional medicine for centuries. Today, an excellent source of potassium and magnesium is often ground and used in some herbal supplements. Consumption of the leaves is believed to help detoxify the liver.
Cultivated since the mid-1700s, the Purple Plum is a relatively small round radish that typically reaches between 1 and 2 inches in diameter. Ranging from vibrant purple to a deep burgundy, the crisp flesh of the Purple Plum is white and has a reasonably sharp, spicy flavor with a hint of sweetness. It is widely used as a garnish and brings color to green salads. It is also often used in salsas, relishes, and crudités. The Purple Plum is a very durable radish; the Purple Plum is easy to grow, does well in hotter climates, and is a favorite of home gardeners. It can be refrigerated and stored longer than many other radishes without becoming spongy or losing its flavor.
Also called the Cincinnati or Cincinnati Market radish, the Long Scarlet originated in the mid-19th century, probably in the central Ohio Valley. With an unsurprisingly deep red/scarlet coloration, this radish will typically grow to 6 or 7 inches in length and has been very popular with home gardeners for over a century. The flesh is a creamy white, quite tender, and has one of the sweetest flavors you are likely to find in a radish. Not widely commercially cultivated, you are most likely to find these radishes at farmers’ markets throughout the Midwestern United States and parts of Lower Canada.
Very popular in the United States, particularly in the mid to late Spring, Easter Egg radishes are produced from a mix of different colored small radish seeds grown and harvested together and sold (or presented) in bunches. Easter Egg bunches will most often feature round white, pink, purple, red, and mixed-shade radishes, usually between half and three-quarters of an inch in diameter depending on the blend of seeds used. Most radish varieties used in these mixes will be mild and relatively sweet. Easter Eggs are very popular with home gardeners and are particularly well suited to children’s gardens.
One of the unique radishes you will likely run across, the Zlata, originated in Eastern Europe – most likely Poland – several centuries ago. Zlata (gold in Slovenian) radishes have a golden yellow skin and bright white flesh with a crunchy texture and a spicy, slightly sweet flavor. A small round to oblong radish, they are still widely cultivated in Eastern and Central Europe, where they are used in salads, soups and eaten by themselves with butter and salt. Although it is a durable radish and lasts quite well, the older a Zlata gets, the spicier it will become, unlike many radishes.
One of the radish family’s newest (if not the newest) members, the Purple Ninja was developed at Bebe Farms in Santa Maria, California, and released to the marketplace in 2015. A relatively short, elongated radish, the Purple Ninja has a firm lavender and white-streaked flesh and a spicy flavor. Although too new to have made much of a comprehensive market impact as yet, the unique coloration and sturdy flavor of this radish are likely to help it grow in popularity fairly quickly.
Nope – even though it has radish in the name, is another root vegetable, and even comes from the same family of plants – the Horseradish is not a radish. A different genus of plant and vegetable altogether, the Horseradish probably originated in Western Asia and has been mentioned in writings dating back to the 4th century BC. The Horseradish has a very intense, hot, and spicy flavor, Belonging to the Armoracia genus. It is used primarily in garnishes, condiments, and as an addition to very spicy dishes – particularly in Asian and Eastern European cuisines. Providing a unique and – to some palates – quite delicious flavor all its own, the Horseradish is many things … but it ain’t a radish.
Lisa has a Bachelor’s of Science in Communication Arts. She is an experienced blogger who enjoys researching interesting facts, ideas, products, and other compelling concepts. In addition to writing, she likes photography and Photoshop.