cwikla - red beet and horseradish

Cwikla (Red Beet Horseradish)

Grated horseradish with beets is known as cwikla (CHEEK-wah) in Polish. Horseradish root is native to the warmer areas of Eastern Europe and it appears in recipes worldwide. 

Here in the Coal Region, a commercially prepared and bottled version is easily found in the grocery store, but for those who cannot get it in stores or PREFER TO MAKE THEIR OWN, this recipe is for you!

Cwikła is the perfect accompaniment for Polish sausage and ham and is an indispensable condiment at Easter time often used spread on a kielbasi or ham sandwich with a slice of hrudka (egg cheese) nestled between two pieces of paska bread.

Cwikła (or plain horseradish – chrzan) is one of the foods included in baskets taken to church on Holy Saturday to be blessed in parishes with Eastern European ties.

The roots of this tradition date back to the 12th century early history of Poland, and is now observed by expatriates and their descendants in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. and other Polish parish communities. However, the Eastern Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians, including Czechs, Croatians, Hungarians, Lithuanians, Russians, Slovaks and Ukrainians, also participate in this holy ritual. It has now been adopted by people of all ethnic backgrounds who enjoy this richly symbolic custom.

The horseradish is a reminder of the bitterness and harshness of the Passion of Jesus, and the vinegar it is mixed with symbolizes the sour wine given to Jesus on the cross.

Blesssing baskets

Although widely associated with Easter, this tasty condiment will find its way onto your plate all year round.

You can use fresh or commercially prepared horseradish and/or fresh cooked or canned beets. Making your own means you can adjust the degree of heat from the horseradish to your own taste; some folks believe, the more horseradish the better! You can also adjust the salt, vinegar, and sugar to find what’s just right for you.

If you are unsure about the amount of horseradish, start with less — you can always add more but you can’t take it out. Everyone’s taste is different!

Working With Raw Horseradish Root

Fresh horseradish root

When using fresh horseradish root: use caution! The root is pungent. The biting flavor and smell of horseradish strengthens when the root is grated due to mustard oils released by enzymes when the cells are crushed.

The mustard oil dissipates within 30 minutes of exposure to air, and it is destroyed by heat, so vinegar is usually used to stop the reaction and stabilize the flavor. The release of the oils will burn your eyes and throat. Work at an arm’s length away and whatever you do, don’t deliberately smell the grated horseradish!

Learned my lesson the hard way

I made this mistake once. ONCE. I put some horseradish root my Dad bought at a local farmers’ market in the food processor, grated it, popped the lid off the processor and leaned over the bowl and inhaled.  My knees buckled, my throat seized up, my eyes felt like someone sprayed me with tear gas. I gasped for breath and went into full blown panic mode.

It took a while to pass and it was not pretty. It was not a mistake I will ever make again! You might even want to wear gloves and eye protection. Work cleanly; don’t spread the mixture to your body or other foods.

Red Beet Horseradish – Cwikla

Recipe by A Coalcracker in the KitchenCourse: Condiments, Snacks, RelishesCuisine: Eastern European, Coal RegionDifficulty: Easy

Grated horseradish with beets is known as cwikla (CHEEK-wah) in Polish.


  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar

  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar

  • 1 cup home grated (or purchased) horseradish

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 1 pound beets (cooked, peeled, cooled, and grated) OR 1 (14-ounce) can prepared beets (drained and grated)


  • In a large bowl, mix vinegar, brown sugar, horseradish, and salt until well combined.
  • Add beets and mix thoroughly.
  • Pack into clean glass jars and store refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.