Cabbage roots (of family Brassicaceae (formerly Cruciferae)) have often meant the difference between survival and not for peoples living in cold northern climates - particularly before the potato arrived from the New World. Many of these roots store well and are highly nutritious. Most of the plump tender roots we know today were developed from thin, stringy roots by human tinkering, careful genetic selection over thousands of years.
More on the Cabbage Family.
[Meerrettich (German), Seiyo Wasabi (Japan); B. Armoracia
This pungent white fleshed root was known in Roman times, probably
originating in southeastern Europe. Today it is grown worldwide for use
as a condiment, particularly popular in Germany, Poland, Russia and
surrounding countries. Actually, about 85% of the worlds supply is
grown in the bottomlands surrounding Collinsville, Illinois where the
soil is just the way horseradish likes it. A mixture of horseradish,
mustard seeds and green food coloring is used as a condiment in
Japanese sushi bars, even in Japan, because real
Wasabi is so costly and perishable.
Details and Cooking.
Maca - [Maca-maca,
Maino, Ayak chichira, Ayak willku; Lepidium meyenii (USDA) alt
Lepidium peruvianum (current)]
Native to the Andes mountains of Bolivia and Peru this plant looks very much like a radish, but is closely related to Garden Cress. The three most commonly cultivated and exported varieties are Cream, Red and Black. They are used both as food and as medicinals - said to enhance strength and endurance and reputed to have aphrodisiac properties. This has not been clinically confirmed, though some tests show an increase in libido among healthy men. Nonetheless, this root is included in such herbal "enhancement" potions as actually attempt to include some active ingredients.
In its native region maca is boiled and mashed, dried and ground into
flour for baking, fermented into a weak beer (chicha de maca) and
the leaves are used in salads. Today maca cultivation has been greatly
expanded to feed the "health food" and supplement industry. Maca is
listed as a prescription herb in Norway but is available over the counter
pretty much everywhere else.
Photo by Gust4vo contributed to public domain.
Rutabaga - [Swede,
Yellow Turnip; Turnip rooted cabbage (obs); Kalrot (Sweden (lit.
Cabbage Root)); Rotabagge (Swedish dialect); Neep, Turnip (Scot);
Turnip (North England, Ireland & Atlantic Canada);
This root, possibly originating in Sweden, is an unusual cross between a cabbage and a turnip. In Scotland and northeastern Canada it is simply "turnip" because the regular white turnip is little known in those regions.
Rutabagas are little grown or eaten in Germany due to a long standing
reputation as starvation food. One winter during World War I, called
"The winter of swedes", there was almost nothing else to eat and they got
tired of them. They were brought to Ireland as cattle feed, so were a hard
sell there as human food even during the potato famine.
Turnip vs. Swede, etc. - Translation
[White Turnip, Swede (British Isles & Atlantic Canada),
[Japanese Horseradish; Wasabia japonica]
This very pungent green fleshed root is used grated as a condiment, particularly to accompany sushi. Most sushi lovers, however, have never tasted wasabi. Pretty much all sushi bars in the US and nearly all in Japan serve a fake wasabi made from Horseradish, mustard seeds and green food coloring. Real wasabi (hon-wasabi) has a more refined hotness, a sweet after-taste and is not nearly so bright a green as the fake. It's also very expensive and the flavor is extremely perishable.
Imported "wasabi" purchased as tiny cans of dried powder or tubes of paste is all faked up from horseradish. The Japanese can export horseradish under the name "wasabi" because the Japanese name for horseradish is "seiyo wasabi" (Western wasabi). They can even call it "real wasabi".
Several companies set up wasabi production in North America. At first
they expected to export it to Japan, but local demand has been so great
there's little left to export. Two grades are grown in North America:
sawa-wasabi (semi aquatic - for culinary use) and oka-wasabi (field grown
- for the nutritional supplement industry). Fresh product is available
from these growers (see Details and
Cooking for suppliers). Photo "borrowed" from
Pacific Coast Wasabi.