I am not a horseradish person, so when this assignment came my way it is safe to say that my complexion was not beet red with delight. Last week, it was determined that, given the onset of the festival of freedom, I should go to Murray Avenue Kosher in Squirrel Hill, purchase a selection of kosher-for-Passover horseradish spreads, taste them and offer some comments on the traditional seder plate ingredient and popular gefilte fish condiment.
This was no culinary trek through the subtleties of armoracia rusticana. Rather it was akin to showing up at a seder and being seated across the table from the Brassicaceae family. Oh, and who are they? Just a flaky and odiferous group whose pungency had me counting down the moments until my meal was complete.
Now, while my kitchen, with its paucity of natural light, has a certain sort of ambience, it is no Michelin-worthy setting. To offset such realities I spruced up the space with a bit of song.
In deference to the seasonal spirit I used my tablet to project Arnold Schoenberg’s “Moses und Aron.” As opposed to reading The Guardian’s 2014 review in which it said that the “bracingly austere” work is “one of the most difficult of operas for audiences — at least for those not steeped in Kantian transcendental idealism, Schopenhauer’s metaphysics, 12-tone serialism or the more abstruse questions of Jewish conceptions of the divine,” I simply clicked on the Bochumer Symphoniker’s YouTube link and let the party start.
I put all 10 of the purchases in an opaque plastic bag. I then removed a single jar, untwisted its top and sampled the product. After each course I cleansed the spoons as well as my palate.
Up first was BL Beet Horseradish. Upon uncapping, I discovered that its potent smell was akin to its vibrant color — imagine a hybrid Cheshire Cat and Barney the Dinosaur. As soon as I tasted this purple peculiarity, my mouth started twinging while the shreds stuck between my teeth.
Next was BL Pure Horseradish. This whitish-toned treat, though a tad sour, lacked the punch of its purple predecessor. Third was Benz’s Sweet Recipe Horseradish and Beets. As I started dreading another plum-colored pummeling, I turned to observe the opera. Given my linguistic lack of German, all I could follow was that the haunting music escalated as a shirtless man clung to a large pole and cried. Though clothed, I commiserated and wondered, when too will my suffering end?
For number four I pulled Gold’s Prepared Horseradish. Its shade was similar to number two (BL Pure Horseradish) and its effect nearly trumped number one (BL Beet Horseradish) as my sinuses cleared and my mien contorted.
Number five, Gold’s Sweet Horseradish and Beets, featured the darkest color yet. Note to those with white tablecloths: Unless your Passover pastime is painting, be prudent, as this one seems like it will certainly stain. Despite its likelihood of recoloring everything in my possession, this one wasn’t too bad. Although slimy and unable to safely stay on my spoon, the taste was tolerable.
Such could also be said of number six, Noam Gourmet Prepared Beets with Horseradish Extra Sharp. Like its mouthful of a name, the substance was similar, as I noticed pieces aimlessly swimming among my molars searching for a morsel of gefilte fish.
For number seven, I tried Noam Gourmet Prepared Beets with Horseradish. With virtually no smell and less flakes than others, this slightly chewy choice may have taken the cake, but because of its quasi-burgundy hue and the likelihood of it becoming my next carpet color, I was cautious to give it my convincingly tenable endorsement.
Horseradish number eight — Unger’s Prepared Horseradish with Beets — featured a seal beneath the top that was challenging to peel. For those traveling with horseradish and not wishing to cushion a breakable jar, this may be the choice. Given its fair color — picture a flushed Count von Count who forgets the number of the day — and an evolving taste that I would categorize as “not super-bad,” I may return to this one in the event of a crisis in which I am forced to once again eat horseradish without accompaniment.
Number nine — Ba-Tampte Prepared Horseradish and Beets — drew my desire because of its informative packaging. Underneath the title are the words “Keep Refrigerated.” Little room for misunderstanding there. Similarly, below “Ba-Tampte” is the quoted phrase, “Means Tasty.” There seems to be a certain audience for this one, as in lovers of all things literal.
The last sample was Noam Gourmet Prepared Beets with Horseradish Triple Strong. In a morbidly depressing alternative history of the Flintstones in which Fred realizes that the Bronze Age has arrived and the family is forced to do the unthinkable with Dino in order to keep their tools glued, one wonders what purple paste would have looked like. This horseradish is not that. In fact, given its stable consistency and slightly sweet taste, this one is a bit of a welcome conundrum, sort of like using a dinosaur tail as a slide.
At this point, although several indecipherable hours of “Moses und Aron” remained, I took an exodus from the digital opera and peered down at my plastic plate that now resembled a purple palette. My 10 tastings were complete, and though I felt like my cuspids were cloaked in grated cabbage, my duty was done and I was beaming with pride.
My verdict when it comes to the different varieties out there: Given that the point of horseradish at the seder is to bring tears to your eyes, you can’t go wrong by choosing the more pungent of options available at the store. I’ve certainly tried enough to already tear up when thinking of the impending holiday. PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.