From Africa to Australia, ginger crosses borders with its wide culinary range and variety of uses. Ginger’s history began in Asia thousands of years ago and spread across the world as both a spice and a health remedy. In the Middle Ages, kings enjoyed ground ginger in sweet and savory dishes. (Gingerbread originated at this time.) In colonial times, ginger was fermented into beer and consumed to quell nausea. Eventually it made its way into Western homes, where Americans quickly took to powdered ginger for gingerbread, cakes and pies. Today we have easy access to fresh ginger for both foods and cures.
Ginger has played an important healing role throughout history. It’s often referred to as the universal medicine in Indian Ayurvedic teachings, and it’s used in more than 50 percent of traditional Chinese herbal formulas. It contains essential fatty acids, phytochemicals, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, numerous B-vitamins and zinc. It’s no wonder that it has so many important healing properties, such as helping to regulate blood sugar, aid digestion and boost the body’s immune system.
Ginger is also recognized for its ability to settle upset stomachs–ginger ale has long been a folk remedy for curing a bellyache. Indeed, in numerous randomized trials, ginger has proved as efficacious as vitamin B6 in soothing morning sickness in pregnant women. Motion-sickness sufferers also find that taking a few ginger capsules prior to a plane ride can result in a more pleasant trip. If car, boat or plane rides make your kids queasy, try giving them a capsule or two about half an hour before departure (but check with your pediatrician if your child is under 2).
Ginger has eased upset stomachs for centuries and has no known side effects when used in moderation–no more than 4 grams a day for adults, and not for extended periods during pregnancy. (Note: Ginger is not recommended for anyone who has gallstones or is taking anticoagulants.)
People still brew ginger tea to warm up on a cold winter’s day and to relieve their aches and pains. That’s no surprise, since ginger stimulates blood circulation and is an anti-inflammatory. Ginger tea is very easy to make–just chop some fresh ginger and simmer it in water for about five minutes. Strain the liquid into a cup and sweeten it with honey.
To please the palette or heal the body, ginger is a wondrous culinary delight with so much to offer. Try these recipes to make the most of this ancient spice.
Different types of ginger and how to use them in the kitchen.
Ginger’s edible portion is called a rhizome. (The plant also produces a long stem that blossoms at the end.) It grows all over the world, including Australia, Hawaii, Jamaica, Africa and across Asia. Fresh ginger typically comes in knobs that are two to five inches in length. The thin skin is peeled to reveal a yellowish, fibrous, fragrant interior. Because ginger has an intense and distinctive character, a small amount imparts a great deal of flavor. Younger pieces of ginger have a subtler, juicer consistency, while older pieces contain less liquid and have a stronger flavor.
Crystallized. Sliced fresh ginger cooked in a sugar syrup until tender, then coated with coarse sugar. Finely chop crystallized ginger and add it to baked goods or any kind of salad where a jolt of sweet pungency is welcome.
Fresh. Select firm knobs with smooth, unblemished skins. Store them in the refrigerator and use them within two weeks. Peel and grate or mince fresh ginger to add tangy zest to baked goods, ice cream and savory dishes (at the end of cooking).
Pickled. Paper-thin slices of ginger pickled in sweetened vinegar; often brightly colored by a shiso leaf. Store pickled ginger in the refrigerator. This classic accompaniment to sushi also adds pleasing piquancy to salads and salad dressings.
Powdered. Ground from dried ginger. Buy it in small quantities and store it away from heat and light; use it within six months to add a kick to baked goods and curries.
Get a healthy dose of ginger in your dessert with this recipe for Double Ginger Ricotta Parfait with Raspberries.
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