The king of all roots
Versatile, nutrient-packed and delicious, Japanese root vegetable daikon is this winter’s ideal dietary addition.
If you’ve ever been to the produce section in an Asian market, chances are you’ve walked past a pile of giant, long, white root-like vegetables that are big enough to cradle in both of your arms. This member of the radish family is known as daikon and literally translates to “great root”—an appropriate name for a root that can grow up to 10 cm in diameter and 35 cm long. These little giants are an indispensable part of Japan’s winter cuisine with a long list of health benefits to help keep people strong and healthy during the cold season.
Originally from the Mediterranean and Black Sea coasts, daikon made its way to and settled in Japan around 1,300 years ago. Because it is easy and fast to grow and has a long storage life, it quickly became a quintessential part of the Japanese diet by the Muromachi period (1336–1392). These days, 90% of all daikon is produced and consumed in Japan and it is the most cultivated vegetable in the country. Even though its harvest peaks in the winter months, this beloved veggie is available and used throughout the year. In fact, classic Japanese dishes like sashimi are completed by some form of daikon.
Root vegetables are some of nature’s best nutritional storehouses—especially during the winter when fewer vegetables tend to grow. As the name indicates, root vegetables are made up of plant roots that have soaked up a multitude of vitamins and minerals from the soil. They also store nutrients from the sun through their leaves. Daikon is no exception and is a great source of enzymes that help digestion, isothiocyanates that are effective in fighting cancer and antibacterial properties that help with respiratory issues. And don’t be quick to discard the leaves! They are also packed with great nutrients, like vitamin A, vitamin C and calcium, and they are delicious sautéed or as accents in soups or salads. The top of the daikon is sweet, but the taste gradually increases in bitterness as you go toward the tip. Based on this variation, different dishes call for different parts of the root.
So what can you do with a gigantic radish? Although it has a pungent and slightly bitter taste, daikon is surprisingly versatile and has mutable flavours. It appears in all types of dishes in all sorts of forms—you can find it chopped in your salads, steeped in your stew or grated on top of your noodles. A large variety of Japanese pickles are also made from daikon. But among the myriad of daikon options, one of the purest and most traditional ways of enjoying daikon is in oden. When simmered, the porous vegetable soaks up all of the different and complex flavours created in the pot from the various ingredients, and the result is an explosion of umami with great texture.
Delicious cooked or raw, daikon is a versatile giant of a vegetable that you’ll want to keep handy to help get you through the winter ahead.
Not just your typical radish
Daikon is a part of the mustard family and is Japan’s king of all vegetables.
There’s more to this beloved giant than its impressive size and mass.
- Japan’s equivalent of Canada’s giant pumpkin contests is the daikon contest, with the current world winner weighing in at a whopping 31.1 kg!
- The daikon root can be stored in your fridge for up to one month, but the leaves should be consumed within a few days.
- Dried daikon (kiriboshi daikon) has more umami and multiplied benefits compared to its raw counterpart, such as increased calcium, fibre and iron.
- Some people find the daikon smell to be somewhat offensive. Storing it in a container will keep the smell from overwhelming your fridge.
- Had one too many? A cup of grated daikon is an excellent hangover remedy thanks to the root’s digestive enzymes.