This is the strangest thing I've ever experienced with food. I have a salad, a kale and green leaf lettuce salad, sprinkled with lemon juice. As I'm eating it, when the lemon juice and kale leaves mix together, it produces the typical horseradish scent and taste - I even feel it in my nose as you do with horseradish. It's very spicy as one would expect from horseradish/wasabi. Very strange - what is the reason for this?

  • Horseraddish and kale are both members of the broader Brassicaceae family of plants, so it is not inconceivable that they would have some similarities. I cannot imagine how you would get the same sensation from green leaf lettuce.
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Jan 6, 2014 at 19:37
  • Yeah it was probably the kale honestly, that makes sense. Thanks!
    – Mike Marks
    Jan 6, 2014 at 19:39
  • 1
    Is it possible that you have some mustard greens in there? They look very similar to kale and definitely have that "hot" flavor.
    – SourDoh
    Jan 6, 2014 at 19:41
  • @sourd'oh Of course, mustard is another member of that prolific family.
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Jan 6, 2014 at 19:44
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    @MikeMarks that's why I ask. They look very similar (as SAJ14SAJ points out, they are related), and I've purchased what I thought was kale without closely inspecting and realized it was mustard when I ate it.
    – SourDoh
    Jan 6, 2014 at 19:46

1 Answer 1


Interesting question and even if I am just speculating, there is a probable chemical explanation to this.

If you are used to handling horseradish, you may have noticed that it must be cut or grated to produce the typical smell. What actually happens is that myrosinase and singrin from the broken cells react and produce allyl isothiocyanate, the compound causing the typical pungent smell of horseradish, wasabi and mustard. If left open in air, the grated horse radish looses its smell, since allyl isothiocyanate is rapidly oxidized (it reacts with the oxygen in the air) and form other compounds.

Now, kale contains both myrosinase and singrin as well, but not nearly as much as the horseradish root. Probably, the content is so low, that the produced allyl isothiocyanate is oxidized so fast, that the pungent smell is not noticed. If you however throw in some lemon juice, the contained ascorbic acid acts as a strong anti oxidant, preventing the reduction of the allyl isothiocyanate and potentially keeping a noticeable smell.

If I am right, sprinkling lemon juice over freshly cut broccoli should have about the same effect. I don't have any at hand, but it would be interesting to know if someone tries.

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