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Wednesday
Mar112009

Beaverton Foods' Hair-Raising Horseradish

By: Laura Sabo  No doubt most of us have had corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick’s Day or Passover, but the real show stopper is the horseradish that’s served as an accompaniment. With its ear tingling, throat burning qualities, this is not tame fare.

The bite and aroma of the horseradish root are almost absent until it is grated or ground. During this process, as the root cells are crushed, volatile oils are released making its taste hot. Vinegar stops this reaction and stabilizes the flavor.

While Beaverton Foods of Beaverton, Oregon is the largest producer of horseradish in the United States, its roots can be traced back to the Egyptians, circa 1500 B.C. Early Greeks used it as a rub for low back pain and as an aphrodisiac, and Jews still use it during Passover Seders as one of the bitter herbs. Additionally, horseradish syrup can be used as a cough medicine, and then there’s the belief it’s a cure-all for everything from rheumatism to tuberculosis.

Early settlers brought horseradish to North America and began cultivating it in the colonies. It was common in the northeast by 1806 and grew wild near Boston by 1840. Commercial cultivation in America began in the mid-1850s, when immigrants started horseradish farms in the Midwest.

In 1929, Rose Biggi (pronounced Bee Gee) founded Beaverton Foods as a way to make money for her family during the Great Depression. She lived on land that produced horseradish root so it was put to good use. Her husband wasn’t particularly interested in the business, and even though Rose never acquired a taste for horseradish, the business still flourishes today with 72 full-time employees.

Esther, the first employee to work at Beaverton Foods, stayed for 63 years. Rose didn’t drive and  the then 14-year-old Esther, who had been working in the farm fields, was hired on-the-spot to drive the horseradish root to the processing plant.

Beaverton Foods’ first customer was Mrs. Fred Meyer, of the Pacific Northwest’s Fred Meyer one-stop shopping fame. “Freddie’s” still sells it today, along with 90% of the grocery stores in the U.S.

The business has been kept in the family—Rose’s son, Gene, is President, and grandson Domonic is Vice-President. He hopes to pass down the business to future generations.

With 150 specialty condiments sold internationally, Beaverton Foods is headed to the 16th Annual Napa Valley Mustard Festival March 13-15 to accept eight awards to add to their vast collection of honors through the years.

One tablespoon of horseradish has only six calories, no fat and is recommended as part of a healthy, low-fat diet because of its fat-free, high-flavor qualities. So if you’re looking to add a little zip to your palate, hotsy-totsy horseradish just might hold the key. Or, for the faint of tongue, horseradish can always be mixed with sour cream or plain yogurt.

Beaverton Foods, Inc.
7100 NW Century Blvd.
Hillsboro, OR 97124
(800) 223-8076

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