Horseradish in Illinois

Southwest Illinois: Horseradish Capital of America

by Martin Ross – Illinois Farm Bureau Partners

Americans today like a little burn in their burrito, a wasabi wallop with their sushi, a chili charge in their Thai takeout.  And as long as consumers yearn for the burn, Southern Illinois horseradish grower Jeff Heepke will bring the heat.

Horseradish has held its own in a fickle culinary environment, gracing prime rib, shrimp dips, holiday tables and a growing list of saucy formulations designed to tantalize adventurous taste buds. In fact, the International Herb Association crowned horseradish the 2011 Herb of the Year, citing its rich historical roots and diversity – Armoracia rusticana, as it’s known in the botanical world, has also served a variety of chemical and medical uses.

Nationwide, roughly 24 million pounds of horseradish roots are ground and processed each year to produce some 6 million gallons of prepared horseradish. Illinois grows the lion’s share: Collinsville-based J.R. Kelly Co. is the nation’s top supplier, marketing an annual 10 million to 12 million pounds of roots, thus earning the nickname “The Horseradish House.”

Heepke, a 31-year-old Edwardsville grower who sells directly to “grinders,” is the fourth generation of “a horseradish family” that took root with great-grandfather George Willaredt. Heepke took up the family mantle roughly a decade ago and today farms 200 acres of horseradish, at about 7,000 pounds to the acre, as well as corn and soybeans.

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