Burdock Root: What is it?


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At first glance, burdock root looks like wood, or something that should be in the compost heap rather than on our plates. It’s definitely not something frequently seen in most grocery stores. But it’s actually quite ubiquitous, growing in the wild in most of the temperate United States. In fact, you’ve probably noticed the burs on your shoelaces or clothing after a walk in the woods. (Fun fact: the hook-and-loop design of the seed heads inspired the mind of the inventor of velcro!)

The burs of burdock, as well as the flowers, leaves, and even the root have many medicinal properties, but we are going to focus on some recipes for dishes that feature the root.

 

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Cleaning and Prepping

In any recipe using burdock, the first step is to clean and prep the root. The skin is where most of the flavor is, so rather than peeling the root, it’s best to scrub it with a cleaning brush. You can use the back of a knife to help scrape off any dirt. Prepping your burdock can take a little bit of time, but, just like with fresh ginger or garlic, the tactile process of working with real food is part of the fun and reward! To keep the burdock from oxidizing and turning brown, let it soak in water and lemon juice or vinegar until ready to use.

Japanese Side Dish – Kinpira Gobo

Though perhaps not familiar to Westerners, this side dish is common in Japan. Easy to prepare, it would be a great addition to any household meal plan, especially if you are a fan of Asian cooking. Thin, matchstick sized slices of burdock are sauteed in a fat of your choice (sesame oil or duck fat work wonderfully), and then simmered until tender in variations of soy sauce, mirin, sake, sugar, and chili flakes, depending on the recipe.  Burdock absorbs whatever it is cooked in, so you can play around with different combinations to get the flavor profile you want. This warm and savory side goes well over rice or incorporated into a stir-fry.

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Pickled Burdock

It seems like pickling is a major food trend right now, but for good reason! The bright acidity of a pickled vegetable rounds out the flavor in a dish by balancing the notes of sweet, sour, and saltiness, while also adding a nice crunch to the bite. Since it’s native to Asia, pickled burdock root is often found in sushi restaurants, and is a great addition to spring rolls. It adds a depth of flavor to pickled radish, carrot and cucumber to top off banh mi lettuce wraps. If you haven’t already forayed into the world of quick pickling, here’s some basic instructions on how to pickle anything. It’s a great way to get more vegetables into your diet and to experiment with big, bright flavors.

SEE ALSO: How to Easily Can Your Fall Vegetables If You’ve Never Canned Before

We have a bushel of burdock in our produce section right now, and its relative mystery is intriguing and deserves some attention from the food-lovers and home cooks who like to try new things. Despite its humble appearance, burdock root has the potential to lend some bold flavors to familiar dishes. Its interesting history and medicinal uses are also worth looking into. We love being able to bring in unique produce and to shed light on the under-appreciated.  Even Leo Tolstoy had something to say about burdock:

ÒIt makes me want to write. It asserts life to the end, and alone in the midst of the whole field, somehow or other had asserted it.”

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