Daikon, Raphanus sativus var. longipinnatus, is a variety of radish distinguished by its long, white taproot. These fast-growing radishes are native to East Asia, but now people cultivate them in many parts of the world. It’s the most popular vegetable in Japan, with Japanese consuming and producing around 90% of the world’s daikons annually.
What is the daikon plant? How to use it, and can you grow it in your garden? If you have a bunch of queries before you plant the seeds in your backyard or add them to your diet, here’s where you’ll find out everything. So let’s dig deeper into this “big root” and learn if it’s as impressive as its size!
Also called white radish, long white radish, oriental radish, and winter radish, daikon is widely consumed in South Asia, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, and China. It’s very low on calories and a rich source of fibers, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and Vitamin C. People generally eat it when it’s still raw, but you can also be pickle or cook it. Asian recipes often incorporate daikon in curries and soups.
|Common Name||Daikon, White Radish, Winter Radish, Japanese Radish|
|Botanical Name||Raphanus Sativus Var. Longipinnatus|
|Plant Type||An Annual|
|Size (Fully Grown)||10 To 20 Inches (About 25 to 51 cm) Tall, 6 Inches (About 15 cm) Spread|
|Sun Exposure||Full Sun To Partial Shade|
|Soil Type||One That Is Fertile And Drains Well|
|Soil pH||From 5.8 To 6.8|
|U.S. Hardiness Zones||2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, And 11|
|Native Area||Mediterranean, East Asia|
What Different Types Of Daikon Exist?
There are over a hundred different daikon varieties, and their size, shape, and even taste can vary with the cultivar. Not all daikons are long, cylindrical, and white.
While some varieties, like the Tama Hybrid, can grow more than 1 foot (about 30 cm) tall, there are shorter daikons too. For example, Spring Light only grows to a length of 7 inches (about 18 cm).
Besides the classic white color, daikons also come in other skin colors, including red, purple, black, green, and pink. The watermelon radish is a rather unusual variety, oval in shape, light green on the outside, with a vibrant pink interior. Here are some other popular types you’ll find:
- Miura Cross
- Spring Light
- Relish Cross
- Tama Winter
- Tama Hybrid
- Cantonese Lobak
- Chinese Red Meat
- Watermelon Radish
- Daikon Long White
- Korean Radish, Or Mu
- Mino Summer Cross F-R
- Okura CrosCalifornia Mammoth White
Where Did Daikon Come From?
Most historians believe that radishes originated from the Mediterranean region and reached Japan somewhere around the 3rd or 4th century. Initially, people only consumed those green tops rather than the long, fleshy roots.
The green tops are rich in vitamins and minerals, earning them a place among the nanakusa, the seven herbs added to the rice porridge in January to ensure health and life during the rest of the year, as part of the Japanese culture.
It wasn’t until the Muromachi Period between 1392 and 1573 that the vegetable started being cultivated for the large roots. The name “daikon” comes from two Japanese words, dai, meaning large, and kon, meaning root.
During the Edo period (1603-1868), travelers introduced new daikons to the country, making them even more popular. During this period, the classic technique of using the vegetable – daikon oroshi – was introduced. Raw grated daikon was used as a condiment with fish and meat dishes. This hardy vegetable was the one that saved many people from famine.
In the US, daikon is primarily grown by the Asian population to use in Asian cuisine. In North America, it is cultivated as a fallow crop. The leaves may be harvested and used as animal fodder, but the roots are left in the ground to improve soil structure and prevent compaction. Today, daikon is a standard part of Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, and Pakistani cuisine, though Japan still produces and consumes most of the world’s daikons.
What Does The Daikon Plant Look Like?
The daikon radish is distinguished by the rosette of branches and leaves above a sizeable white taproot. The taproot penetrates deep into the soil, leaving a bit of the root exposed above the ground. The fleshy taproot is the reason why we grow daikon, but you can also consume the leaves.
Leaves grow in rosettes above the taproot of the daikon plant. The green leaves arranged on either side of the thick, light green branches are edible and healthy. While the usual cultivars are grown for the roots, some are grown for the foliage. These cultivars have more greens and smaller roots. Daikon leaves furikake is a popular dish in Japan.
Most varieties are bred to be bolt resistant, which means you’ll harvest and consume the roots before seeing any flowers. But, the plant may bolt if it reaches maturity in hot weather. It produces small white flowers, with a tinge of purple and yellow stamens in the center.
Each blossom has four petals and measures about 0,75 to 1,2 inches (about 2 to 3 cm) across. They’re edible and make a beautiful garnish on Asian dishes.
Saving the best for last, the “big root” that we’re after when growing daikon. This is also the reason why we grow it, that white cylindrical taproot. Depending on the variety, different shapes, sizes, and colors also exist besides the classic appearance.
The longest roots can grow up to 20 inches (about 50 cm) in length, measuring 4 inches (about 10 cm) across. The standard varieties weigh up to 1 to 2 pounds (about 0,4 to 0,91 kg), while the biggest types may hit 50 pounds (approximately 22,7 kilograms) for a single root!
The flavor is tangy and peppery but milder than a typical radish, with a crisp and juicy texture. It’s packed with nutrients and makes a great addition to several Asian dishes. It can be consumed raw, shredded or sliced, or cooked to soften the texture. They’re also used dried or pickled.
In What Conditions Does Daikon Grow Best In?
Daikon is one of the easiest vegetables to add to your garden. They mature quickly and need very little maintenance to bring them to harvest. Depending on the cultivar, they’ll be ready for harvest in just about 40 to 70 days.
Once the “shoulders” are visible above the ground and they’re the right thickness, you can gently pull it out and see how big it has grown! Though it’s straightforward to grow, here are some tips to help you cultivate the juiciest, longest rots in your garden:
Daikons grow best when the temperature ranges from 50 to 65°F (about 10 to 18°C). They’re winter killed if the temperatures drop below 20°F (about -6°C) for extended periods. Seeds are sown in the ground around two months before the first frost so they can reach maturity before the temperatures drop beyond the optimal level.
Soil And Sun
Although people also grow daikon because it helps to loosen compacted soil, it will grow best in fertile and friable soil. Loose soil will produce bigger, straighter roots. Choose a full sun site to partial shade and ensure the soil pH is between 5.8 and 6.8 before planting the seeds.
Water And Fertilizing
Water the soil every few days if it doesn’t rain to maintain consistent moisture. But, make sure the soil isn’t soaking wet. Apply an inch (about 2,5 cm) layer of mulch around the plants to conserve moisture and ensure sweeter roots. Lack of water can turn them dry and bitter.
Since daikon needs a short growing season, you won’t need to fertilize it as long as you’ve started with compost-rich soil. Also, avoid applying nitrogen-based fertilizers since they’ll promote foliage growth but inhibit the development of the roots.
Is It Safe To Eat / Consume Daikon?
Low on calories and loaded with nutrients, daikon is an excellent addition to your regular diet. It builds your immune system, helps digestion, prevents cancer, cleanses your body of harmful toxins, and offers many other health benefits. But, is there anything you should know about before adding it to your meals? Let’s find out.
Pregnant And Breastfeeding Women
Daikon is rich in folates, which is vital during pregnancy since it promotes the baby’s development. But, keep in mind that experts tell pregnant and nursing women to avoid overconsumption of this vegetable.
Daikon is very nutritious and easy to digest. You can start feeding it to your children’s diet when they are 6 to 8 months old, as soon as they can chew. For example, lightly stir-fried daikon strips can be delicious finger foods.
People With Allergies
Daikon isn’t a common allergen. But, some individuals may experience dermatitis or asthma upon consuming the vegetable.
People With Diabetes
Regular consumption of daikon and other cruciferous vegetables can help prevent risks of diabetes in healthy people. It’s also beneficial for people with diabetes since it has a low glycemic index and can help manage blood sugar levels.
Daikon is non-toxic. All its parts, including the root, are safe for your furry friends if offered in moderation.
Featured image credit – © WL Design – stock.adobe.com