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Besides a sharp bite, radishes offer many nutritional benefits

While not everyone appreciates the sharp bite that radishes bring to salads and main dishes, these roots offer a number of nutritional benefits.

This time of year everyone is starting to plant their gardens and radishes usually are one of those vegetables. I always thought as a kid that we planted them because they were a vegetable that could be planted in the cooler weather. Little did I know my mom and dad knew the nutritional value of radishes.

Radishes are a member of the cruciferous family. Related to broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, the nutritional value of radishes is relatively high, especially when the whole plant is consumed.

The tangy flavor of all types of radishes is due to the mustard oil found in cruciferous plants. Radish varieties come in an array of colors and sizes. They can be red, pink, black, purple or white. They can be as small as a dime or profoundly large — the heaviest radish ever recorded being a 100-pound vegetable grown in 1544.

Their history dates back to ancient times when they were served daily to Egyptian slaves along with garlic and onions. The radish is native to Asia, where it spread to Japan. The Daikon radish is very popular in Asian cooking. In Europe, the radish became a staple vegetable much later. By the 16th century it was used in traditional medicine for kidney stones and facial blemishes.

Around 60 percent of the human body is composed of water, so it’s important that we hydrate ourselves properly. In addition to drinking regular fluids, eating fruits and vegetables helps us maintain daily water levels.

Radishes contain nearly 95 percent water in proportion to their weight, making them an excellent hydration source. This water content can also curb your appetite by making you feel full sooner — a definite benefit if you’re trying to lose weight.

A vegetable with antibacterial and antifungal properties, radishes are a healthy source of vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. Radishes have traditionally been eaten for constipation because of their roughage. Radish greens have six times the amount of Vitamin C found in the root, as well as a significant amount of calcium, iron and Thiamine.

There are several varieties of radishes. Red Globe is the most common in North America. Black radishes, which is turnip like and approximately 8 inches long, have a dull black or dark brown skin. When peeled, their flesh is white, quite pungent and drier than other radishes. Black radishes have a longer shelf life than most radishes.

Daikons are very large, carrot-shaped radishes that are up to 18 inches long and weigh 1 to 2 pounds. Daikons have a white flesh that is juicy and a bit hotter than a red radish, but milder than black.

White Icicles are long up to a half foot and tapered. They have a white flesh that is milder than the red variety. And there is the California Mammoth White which is a larger variety than the White Icicle. These radishes have oblong shaped roots about 8 inches long. Their flesh is slightly pungent.

When selecting radishes the roots should be hard and solid, and if they have tops they should be crisp and green. If radishes were purchased with the leaves attached, remove the tops unless they will be served the same day. Place radishes in plastic bags, if they are not already packaged, and store in the refrigerator.

Add the tops with other greens when eating. Most varieties will keep up to two weeks in the refrigerator. Black radishes can be stored for months if they remain dry. Store them in perforated plastic bags and keep in the refrigerator.

To prepare, scrub radishes and trim off the stem end and tip. You may peel the radishes or leave the skin intact. The skin is responsible for much of the pungency, so the black radish is most often peeled for those not accustomed to this variety. However, the red globe and white icicle radishes are rarely hot enough to warrant peeling.

The most common uses for radishes are as a garnish or as an ingredient in a green salad.

Roasted Radishes and Root Vegetables 3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks (About 3 cups) 4 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks (About 2 cups) 2 medium red onions, peeled and quartered 12 ounces of radishes 1 whole head of garlic cut in half 3 tablespoons olive oil 1/2 teaspoon black pepper 1 tablespoon fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a 9- by 13- by 2-inch nonstick baking pan (or spray a conventional pan with vegetable cooking spray) place mushrooms bell pepper, zucchini and onion. Toss with olive oil, garlic, salt, thyme and black pepper. Bake uncovered, until mushrooms and vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Serve as a side dish or toss with pasta or rice if desired.

Donna Cook is the owner of Rabbit Creek Gourmet Foods in Louisburg, Kan. She is also a master gardener and master food volunteer and is on the board of directors of the Home Baking Association.