Spice Up Your Cooking And Life With Ginger
Ginger is one of most frequently used spices, along with onion and garlic, in exquisite cuisines known all over the world. Most famous foods made from ginger are ginger bread, ginger snaps (cookies), ginger cake and ginger sticks. It is also prepared as a drink like ginger tea, ginger beer, and ginger ale. These are just few, there are myriad of food and drinks we derived much pleasure from which we owe to this famous and extra-ordinary herb, ginger.
Lots of people presumed that ginger is a root, but it is actually an underground stem or a rhizome. The ginger stem which is knotted, thick, beige in color extends to about 12 inches above the ground with long, narrow, ribbed, green leaves and white or yellowish-green flowers. Since ginger is commonly called a root and not stem, we will stick with ginger as a root, to avoid confusion.
Ginger is native to India and China. It usually grows in fertile, moist, tropical soil. It takes its name from the Sanskrit word stringa-vera, which means “with a body like a horn.” The important active components of the ginger root are thought to be volatile oils and pungent phenol compounds (such as gingerols and shogaols).
Ginger is available in many forms. Most common of which are:
Culinary Uses of Ginger
- Whole raw roots are commonly referred to as fresh ginger. A piece of the rhizome, called a ‘hand’, it has a pale yellow interior and a skin varying in color from brown to off-white. Jamaican ginger, which is pale buff, is regarded as the best variety.
Whole fresh roots provide the freshest taste. The roots are collected and shipped when they are still young, the outer skin is a light green color. These are usually found in Oriental markets.
- Dried roots are sold either ‘black’ with the root skin left on, or ‘white’ with the skin peeled off. The dried root is available whole or sliced.
- Powdered ginger is the buff-colored ground spice made from dried root.
- Preserved or ‘stem’ ginger is made from fresh young roots, peeled and sliced, then cooked in a heavy sugar syrup. The ginger pieces and syrup are canned together. They are soft and pulpy, but extremely hot and spicy.
- Crystallized ginger is also cooked in sugar syrup, then air dried and rolled in sugar.
- Pickled ginger has the root sliced paper-thin and pickled in a vinegar solution. This pickle is known in Japan as gari, which often accompanies sushi, and is served to refresh the palate between courses.
Ginger roots are also steamed and the extracts are made into ginger tinctures, capsules, and oils.
Ginger is used extensively as a spice in many if not all cuisines of the world.
Young ginger roots, which are juicy and have mild flavors, are often pickled in vinegar or sherry as a snack or just cooked as an ingredient in many dishes. They can also be stewed in boiling water to make ginger tea, with honey often added as a sweetener. Mature ginger roots, which are fibrous and extremely potent, are often used as a spice in to cover up other strong odors and flavors such as in seafood and mutton.
Ginger is also made into candy, is used as a flavoring for cookies, crackers and cake, and is the main flavor in ginger ale, and the spicier beverage ginger beer. A ginger-flavored liquor called Canton is produced in the Guangdong, China, made from six different varieties of ginger. Green ginger wine is produced in the United Kingdom in a green glass bottle. Ginger is also used as a spice added to hot coffee and tea.
In Western cuisine, ginger is traditionally restricted to sweet foods, such as ginger ale, gingerbread, ginger snaps, ginger cake and ginger biscuits. In Myanmar, ginger is used in a salad dish called gyin-tho, which consists of shredded ginger preserved in oil, and a variety of nuts and seeds. In India, ginger is used in all sub-varieties of the Indian cuisines and candied ginger is likewise very famous.
Medicinal uses of Ginger
Ginger has been used for ages to aid digestion and treat stomach upset, diarrhea, and nausea. Since ancient times, ginger has also been used to help treat arthritis, colic, diarrhea, and heart conditions. Ginger, when added as an ingredient in food is believed to help the common cold, flu-like symptoms, headaches, and even painful menstrual periods.
Because it contains many antioxidants, medical research has shown that ginger root is an excellent digestive aid for mild stomach upset and is commonly recommended by professional herbalists to help prevent or treat nausea and vomiting associated with motion sickness, pregnancy, and, sometimes, chemotherapy for cancer. However, take note that fresh ginger root is safe to use during pregnancy, but dried ginger root is not preferable.
Ginger extract has long been used in traditional medical practices to decrease inflammation. In fact, many herbalists today use ginger to help treat health problems associated with inflammation, such as arthritis, bronchitis, and ulcerative colitis. Ginger also has blood thinning and cholesterol lowering properties, making it effective in treating heart disease.
Ginger ale and ginger beer have been recommended as "stomach settlers" for generations in countries where the beverages are made. Ginger water was commonly used to avoid heat cramps in the United States in the past.
The characteristic odor and flavor of ginger root is caused by a mixture of zingerone, shoagoles and gingerols, and volatile oils. The gingerols have analgesic, sedative, antipyretic, antibacterial, and gastro-intestinal motility effects.
Today, powdered dried ginger root is made into pills for medicinal use.
Landscaping and Gardening uses of Ginger
In addition to these medicinal uses, ginger continues to be valued around the world as an important cooking spice and in garden landscaping. Ginger produces clusters of white and pink flower buds that bloom into yellow flowers. Because of the aesthetic appeal and the adaptivity of the plant to warm climates, ginger is often used as landscaping around subtropical homes.
No need to doubt ginger’s versatility and popularity. Ask a child and he would definitely tell you of a favorite bedtime story character, the Gingerbread Man.