Most Shrimp Cocktails Have Unlikely Start in Collinsville

Horseradish is a spicy root vegetable commonly made into a pre-packaged sauce. The strong, biting flavor of horseradish sauce adds a kick to any dish, and it is an important ingredient for shrimp cocktail sauce. In Illinois, this specialty crop is mainly grown in the American Bottom areas in St. Clair, Madison, and Monroe counties, with Collinsville serving as the hub location. With more than 60 percent of the world’s horseradish supply grown in this area, Collinsville is known as ‘The Horseradish Capital of the World.’ 

The Illinois Horseradish Growers Association includes nearly a dozen farms in Madison and St. Clair counties, ranging from five to 500 acres of production. Collinsville-based J.R. Kelly Company is the nation’s top supplier of horseradish, marketing an annual 10 to 12 million pounds of roots. That distinction has earned the business the title of ‘The Horseradish House.’ 

The J.R. Kelly Company not only supplies horseradish roots in the U.S., but they also ship internationally to all corners of the globe. The business offers five different grades of horseradish roots, from fresh produce grades for all types of horseradish processing, including medical use. J. R. Kelly’s state-of-the-art cooler warehouses allow it to store and ship fresh horseradish roots year-round. 

Collinsville is proud of its horseradish traditions, and for the last 35 years, it has hosted the International Horseradish Festival on the first weekend in June. Unique events include, of course, a horseradish toss and horseradish grinding. Admission, musical entertainment, and parking are all free, with the festival held in Uptown Collinsville on Main Street. Other events include a 5K run, car show, Bloody Mary contest, cornhole tournament, kids’ activities, and a number of food and drink options. In addition, the festival is the one time of the year where you can purchase fresh ground horseradish directly from the growers.  

The American Bottom is a Mississippi River floodplain in southern Illinois that extends from Alton south to the Kaskaskia River. The area is ideal for growing horseradish because the soil is sandy, loose, and rich with nutrients such as potash from centuries of flooding. Horseradish grown in and around the Collinsville area is desired because the potassium-rich potash gives the vegetable extra heat. 

Commercial horseradish farming began in the American Bottom areas in the 1850s by immigrant German farmers. The horseradish farming industry was thriving by the 1890s in the Collinsville area, with the Fingerhut and Bruns families credited with starting the first two commercial horseradish farms. 

Horseradish is a European root vegetable that belongs to the genus Brassica of the mustard family. This includes cabbage, broccoli, radish, cauliflower, turnips, and kale. It is a perennial crop, and the flowers of the plant have four petals and resemble a cross. Its leaves are thick, leathery, and grown bunched together. The leaves are also dark green, crinkled, and prevent most insects and animals from eating it.

Although the leaves of the plant are edible, the root is the preferred edible part of the crop. The white root is covered in a thick brown bark and usually grows up to 12 inches in length and an inch wide before it is harvested. Farmers plant horseradish in early spring and harvest it in late fall after the first frost. It is a labor-intensive crop, as most of the planting and harvesting is still done by hand. 

Shrimp and other seafoods are the most common pair for use with cocktail sauce, and shrimp cocktail can be enjoyed at parties or as an appetizer with any meal. Cocktail sauce can also be used with dips and is very popular as a spicy kick with a Bloody Mary drink. Cocktail sauce can be mixed into meatloaf and even used as a sauce for burgers and hot dogs. 

Horseradish has also been used medicinally all over the world for centuries. It can help reduce inflammation and relieve symptoms of atherosclerosis. Horseradish root is rich in antioxidants, which can help protect your body from cell damage. Other early studies suggest horseradish may prevent growth of other cancer cells, but more research is needed.