In other parts of the world, the radish looks very different. Longer, larger and with many different colors, radishes are very popular in Asia and Europe. There are drawings showing radishes in Egypt from 4000 years ago. They were also known in Greece and Rome. Pliny the Elder and Theophrastus both mentioned radishes. Arriving in northern Europe by the 13th century by way of monastery gardens, radishes were of interest due to their healing capabilities. The monks used radish juice for airway problems such as bronchitis or for rheumatism or gall bladder problems and its seeds for their digestive, carminative and expectorant qualities (source). They quickly worked their way into cottage gardens, but the round, red radish we know was only bred in the 1800s.
The garden radish, Raphanus sativus, is the species from which all our cultivated radishes stem. It is not clear whether this species arose from the wild radish, R. raphanistrum, but they are related to each other. They come from the scientific Family Brassicaceae which also contains a multitude of other garden vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, turnips, rutabaga and horseradish. Even rapeseed, which is pressed into canola oil, is a close relative.
In Germany, the word "Rettich" is the word for any and all radishes. In common usage, however, it most often refers to larger radishes like Daikon or winter radishes known as Black Spanish. The white ones are also known as "Bier Rettich," Bierwurz," or "Radi" in southern Germany. They are often served, thinly sliced and salted, as a light meal in beer gardens, together with fresh bread and butter and a mug of beer.
If you cannot find beer radishes in your grocery store, Daikon radishes can be an acceptable substitute.
The Accordion Cut
You can achieve the spiral or accordion cut by hand (see this video) by slicing halfway through on one side, turning the radish over and slicing through halfway on the other side. Then the radish is marinated in salt for about two hours to soften it in taste and texture.
Winter or Black Spanish Radishes
Planted in July and harvested in the fall, these radishes have a black skin and white flesh. They can be stored like carrots and potatoes. They are experiencing a revival as people search for heirloom vegetables.
These are less common but found in recipes such as potage (as in this recipe, substitute radish for the turnip) or thinly sliced and braised in a bit of butter as a side dish. Roast them with other winter vegetables in the oven. You can also slice or grate them and serve them raw in salads.
The common words in German for smaller, red radishes are "Radieschen," "Radies" or "Sommer Rettich." Planted in late spring, they are one of the first vegetables ready for harvest. Some varieties can be harvested in 35 days. For seed information, try Pinetree Seeds or Burpee's Seeds.
Summer radishes are eaten raw in salads, but you can braise or roast them, too. Try marinating sliced radishes in a light vinegar with salt and or sugar for a low calorie way to enjoy them with less bite.