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Horse-Like Eats

January 21, 1998|CHARLES PERRY

English-speaking people don't eat horse meat. In fact, we tend to feel pretty strongly against the very idea--even more strongly than we feel about eating dog. A lot of other people around the world don't have our taboo, certainly not the Central Asian and East African nomads who live off their herds.

Naturally, this is because of our tender love for horses and dogs (though there is a certain semantic difference: "horse meat" sounds tough while "dog meat" suggests something that tastes bad). Meanwhile, we call certain foods "horse" this-or-that with the implication that they're particularly big or strong ingredients. For instance, fava beans have been called horse beans.

And then there's horseradish. Like the garden radish--and mustard, for that matter--horseradish is a cruciferous plant. This explains the sulfurous bite in both sorts of radish, and horseradish is certainly the stronger.

Several kinds of fish have been called horse mackerels, but usually the term is applied to a very large variety of tuna, not too much of a stretch, tunas and mackerels being cousins. On the other hand, horsemint (Monarda didyma), which smells sort of like mint crossed with basil, isn't a mint at all but an American cousin of patchouli otherwise known as bee balm or Oswego tea.

Nor is horse-chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) a real chestnut; it just looks like a chestnut tree, and in fact its seeds are slightly toxic. Finally, a horse plum is a wild American member of the plum family with edible but quite sour fruit. It has also been called hog plum, which just seems purposely insulting.

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