To many, horseradish is an acquired taste. The root is so spicy that even the smallest amount packs a mean punch to any food its added to. Whether eaten on its own or added to a sauce, this powerful member of the mustard family has garnered a cult following among condiment lovers, literally bringing tears to their eyes.

But while science may have found a solution to onion tears and avocado hand, horseradish continues to dominate with its sensory overload. The reason the horseradish induces such a physical reaction is simple: It contains a volatile chemical called allyl isothiocyanate, which gives off heat and triggers the sinuses. And that’s even before it’s ingested! Beyond tears, it can irritate your throat to the point of such agony that you feel like your mouth is on fire. It’s at its strongest when the root is raw and freshly grated, while the addition of vinegar immediately dilutes this sensation.

It’s often a lot to stomach and, to many, the smell alone is a barrier of entry. And then there are those who are forced to work with the food and face the challenge of its pungency on a daily basis. That’s what workers at one New York City store have to deal with, and their approach to horseradish protection is downright militaristic.

As its name suggests, The Pickle Guys shop on the Lower East Side specializes in all things pickled. From tomatoes to watermelon, there is nothing they can’t jar and brine. But it’s their take on the condiment that really piques our senses. According to an article in the New York Post, their horseradish is so strong that it requires employees to wear a gas mask when handling! Apparently the industrial strength head gear is required at the Pickle Guy’s store because they produce such overwhelming amounts of the spicy condiment, especially during the Passover season.

In an interview with the Post, owner Al Kaufman had this to say about how this trend got started: “Some of the guys who used to work here were ex-military who served in Desert Storm. They would grind horseradish and say, ‘This is crazy,’ so they brought in their gas masks.”

For those ambitious enough to make their own horseradish sauce at home, you may want to take an equally cautious approach. Swimming goggles can help protect your eyes and are a lot more accessible than military gear. You may also want to try making a horseradish cream sauce for a mellow take on the condiment instead.

Header image courtesy of Pixabay.

Jessica is a former Associate Editor at Chowhound. Follow her on Twitter @volume_knob for updates on snacks and cats.
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