It lends zing to dishes from salad to dessert. It's a mainstay in cuisines from the Far East to the Caribbean and has been valued for centuries for its healing qualities. For all of its versatile traits, ginger is a must-have in your kitchen and probably your medicine cabinet too.
The Root Of It All
The name ginger comes from the Sanskrit word for "horn root," a likely reference to ginger's knobby, subterranean look. It's actually not a root at all, though it's often mistaken for one. Ginger is a rhizomea tuber with roots of its ownand oddly enough, it's a distant relative of the banana. Other rhizomes include turmeric and galangal, which can be used as a substitute for ginger. All three have pungent and flavorful flesh.
Ginger originally came from Southeast Asia, where the Chinese were using it as far back as 6th century B.C. During the Middle Ages the English elite placed dried ginger on the dinner table, alongside the salt and pepper. The Spanish brought the plant to the New World to grow and it soon took off in Jamaica, which began exporting ginger back to Europe. Today, most of the ginger eaten in the United States comes from Hawaii, but its crop is puny by comparison to the world's two biggest ginger producersIndia and China.
Ginger For What Ails You
Studies show that ginger prevents nausea and vomiting from seasickness, motion sickness and anesthesia. Many people swear that ginger eases the pain of arthritis, but more research needs to be done to confirm this effect.
Nina Simonds, renown Asian food authority and cookbook author is a ginger enthusiast, "Ginger has been used by the Chinese for thousands of years as a pungent and flavorful seasoning that adds an extra dimension to dishes. It adds spice...and adds balance when used in conjunction with seasonings like garlic, scallions, black beans, etc. Ginger is also considered to have enormous medicinal value. It is one of the most widely used herbs in formulas. Ginger is anti-bacterial so it kills germs and
it soothes and strengthens the throat and prevents and eases nausea. In recent years, it has been used to decrease the pain in burns."
Asian Medicine uses ginger to treat a wide variety of ailments, including motion sickness, colds and flu, and asthma. Also, according to Simonds' book, "A Spoonful of Ginger," the Chinese often pair ginger with beef because they believe the seasoning rids the body of toxins and removes impurities from the meat.
A Global Flavor
Ginger's sweet heat earns it a place in cuisines around the globe. It adds fire to curries, stir-fries and even baked goods. A slice of ginger gives iced or hot tea some extra zip. Ginger is a great, fat free way to add flavor to salad dressings.
The Europeans cook with dried, ground ginger, a preference that surely can be traced to the fact that that was once the only way the seasoning survived the long journey to their hearths. Most other cultures cook with fresh ginger, and often a combination of ginger and garlica sure flavor match made in heaven. The Chinese like to team fresh ginger with seafood to mask the fish odor, just like we pair lemon and seafood in North America.
At the market, look for very firm ginger with slightly shiny, smooth skin. If the skin looks shriveled, it means it's past its prime. Store ginger in the refrigerator or a cool dark place. It will keep for up to three weeks. You can also freeze it, tightly wrapped, for up to six months.
Ground ginger is a poor substitute for fresh ginger, but if it's all you have, remember one tablespoon of fresh ginger is roughly equivalent to a teaspoon of dried ginger.
Try these fantastic FoodFit recipes:
Grilled Chicken with Ginger-Peach Glaze
Gingered Adzuki Beans and Scallops
Ginger-Honey Glazed Barbeque Salmon
Sparkling Ginger Lemonade