Most of us are familiar with the traditional round, red radish, the one with the intense, spicy bite, but we could easily be forgiven for not recognizing the long, white daikon as a member of the radish family at all. And the taste would not provide much of a clue.
"Daikon can be milder than the spicy red radishes than many of us are used to seeing in the store," says Jen Bruning, MS, RDN, LDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, in an email.
The white radish goes by the Japanese name daikon, though it's also commonly known as winter radish, icicle radish, Chinese radish and Japanese radish. The word "daikon" can be broken into two parts: dai ("large") and kon ("root"), in reference to the size of the big root vegetable, which typically is much larger than most American and European radishes. While there are many different varieties of daikon, the most common is the long, carrot-like white radish — hence the name 'icicle radish' — that grows up to 5 inches (13 centimeters) long, but sometimes also comes in a more rounded, spherical form.
Daikon appeals to consumers who like the crunchy taste of red radishes, but prefer a milder taste. "If you've ever thought that you'd like radishes if they weren't so intense, you might find that you like daikon," says Bruning.
The History of Daikon
According to some reports, daikon originated in East or Southeast Asia, though other sources suggest that it was first spotted in the Mediterranean and came to Japan during the Edo period 1,300 years ago.
Either way, the root vegetable has become a staple cuisine in China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines and many other countries in Asia, becoming more common in the West as Asian immigrants trotted the globe, bringing the vegetable with them.
Today, daikon also serves an essential purpose for farmers, who often plant daikon as a cover crop to maintain healthy soil.
Where to Buy Daikon
You can find daikon at many supermarkets, but if you're unable to find daikon at your nearest supermarket, try health food stores, community-supported agriculture (CSA) box cooperatives, local Asian grocery stores and farmer's markets.
"You can usually find daikon in well-stocked produce departments and Asian groceries," says Bruning.
Many Korean chain grocery stores also carry pickled daikon if you're not in the mood to pickle it yourself.
Is It Hard to Grow Daikon?
If you have a green thumb and want to try planting daikon in your own garden, it's pretty easy to find seeds online through retailers like Burpee and Johnny's. You can also try searching for daikon seeds under the name 'white radish.'
Daikon planting season is similar to other radishes, which grow best in the spring or fall, depending on your climate.
Be sure to cultivate the seeds in a generally sunny spot, but avoid planting them in the heat of summer, when temperatures get too hot for the radishes.
How to Cook Daikon
Daikon is safe to eat cooked or raw, according to Bruning. "Crisp, sweet daikon can be sliced or shredded and added to sandwiches or salads raw," she says.
Using a grater or a sharp knife, you can shred daikon into fine noodles and it's perfect as a garnish for for a crunchy salad that pairs well with a traditional Japanese ponzu dressing. Daikon also works well as a party-friendly appetizer or to-go snack.
"Sticks of daikon make great dippers with hummus, ranch or other favorite dips. You can pickle them or bake them into chips (which is really nice if your daikon doesn't taste as sweet as you expected)," says Bruning.
In many east Asian households, it's quite common to make homemade daikon pickles for a tangy treat. "They are sometimes used in kimchi, and if you've ever seen a garnish of thin spiraled crisp white vegetable, it's likely a daikon noodle," says Bruning.
Daikon's also a little bit easier to prepare than your standard red radish. "It's easier to handle because of its shape: long and pointed like a fat white carrot, daikon is easier to slice, dice and peel, which can be downright treacherous with a roly red radish," says Bruning.
Most people consume just the root, but they're actually wasting the more underrated part of the plant: the leaves. Chop up the leaves into a sweet and savory mixture or sprinkle them on top of rice as a tasty seasoning.
Health Benefits of Daikon
Daikon offers plenty of nutritional benefits to the health-minded consumer. The radish contains many critical vitamins and minerals that help form connective tissue in our body. "Daikon contains vitamin C, folate, magnesium, potassium and copper, among other nutrients," says Bruning.
The low-calorie vegetable also packs plenty of plant phytonutrients, like quercetin and glucosinolates that offer myriad health benefits, including anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. The plant's enzymes may also aid in digestion.
"Radishes, like other cruciferous veggies, can also help lower inflammation, which is linked to many chronic diseases," says Bruning.
Picky eaters looking to shake up their diet might want to try out daikon.
"Daikon has a similar crispness and underlying flavor as red radishes (without the bite), and the same health benefits," says Bruning.