How to make radishes cry

Radishes are a bounty of nutrients  and health-supporting compounds (vitamin C in red skin, selenium, folic acid, iron, phosphorus), and the stereotypical red variety requires very little space, time and effort to grow and harvest.  It is a shame that, in NY at least, they are often passed over in the supermarket.  The main reason that I did not choose radishes when I was less food-conscious is that I found their sharpness overwhelming.

Isothiocyanates are responsible for the acridness of radishes, mustard plants, wasabi and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli.  They are plant defense compounds, and since they can also harm the plant, they are only created when the plant’s cells are damaged.  The isothiocyanate precursor, which is allyl glucosinolate (aka mustard oil glycoside) in radishes, and the catalyst for its hydrolysis to the isothiocyanate, myrosinase, are stored in separate but adjacent cells [Periodicum biologorum; Vol.110 No.4 01/2008].  When the cells are damaged via bites or cuts into tissue, the precursor and myrosinase combine and react.

While isothiocyanates are beneficial in disrupting bacterial, fungal and cancer cells {This link leads to a website provided by the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. Karlium is not affiliated or endorsed by the Linus Pauling Institute or Oregon State University.} in the body, a concentrated amount can also damage body cells.  In addition, the allyl isothiocyanate (aka sinigrin, mustard oil component) produced by radishes is volatile, so the compound released after biting into a radish can react with your eyes and make you cry, even if the pain in your mouth doesn’t.

One way of reducing the sharpness of radishes is to make it ‘cry’ (before it makes you cry).  I haven’t seen this being done in NY, but it seems to be common practice in Germany, particularly Bavaria (Bayern), where people eat radishes very often.

How to make radishes cry:

  1. Slice radishes into disks.
  2. Mix with table salt.  Let sit for 10 mins.
  3. Drain resulting liquid produced from radishes.
  4. Eat without anxiety.


This is my new favorite way of preparing radishes.  It is also a good way of preserving  most of the beneficial compounds, since cooking degrades many vitamins and antioxidants.

The biophysochemical explanation for the milder flavor of a ‘weinender Rettich‘ (weeping radish) is that the salt draws out the water stored in the vacuoles of the plant cells (plasmolysis).  Since a glucosinolate is an anion stored in vacuoles, it is likely pulled out of the cells along with the water (I haven’t confirmed this).

Bonus tip:  The allyl thiocyanate in radishes may help reduce bad breath.

Disclaimer:  This post and blog fall under the heading ‘Personal Experiences’ and is meant to interest, educate and inspire.  All information and instruction is given without the intent to harm or control the reader in any way.




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