What exactly is ginger?
Ginger is one of the most widely-used spices in the world. It’s a flowering tropical plant, related to turmeric and cardamom.
There are many ornamental types – such as torch or beehive (below) – but the sort generally used in food is zingiber officinale.
While we call it ginger root, the edible part is actually the rhizome – the bulb.
Ginger has been used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. While it has no significant vitamins or minerals, it contains the essence gingerol, which is scientifically proven to aid good health.
- Due to its anti-bacterial properties, ginger can help fight infections
- It’s good for nausea, and has been used historically for sea-sickness
- It can ease chronic indigestion
- It’s an anti-inflammatory, and can relieve muscle soreness from exercise, as well as osteoarthritis
- Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, it may improve brain function, even in age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s
- It can lower ‘bad’ cholesterol, so may reduce the risk of heart disease
- It can lower blood sugars, so may have anti-diabetic properties (this study is in its early stages)
It’s originally from South Asia, and India remains the greatest producer, but Jamaican is thought to be of the best quality.
Organic ground ginger is easier to get – Waitrose do their own brand, for example. Although it will not provide the same depth of flavour or be as beneficial for health, you can use it as a substitute in most recipes. I would use about 1/2 tsp of ground in place of 1 tbsp grated.
We use fresh ginger in so many ways, the list is almost endless. Some form of it is present in our diet at least once a day. Here are some ideas:
- In smoothies or juices – with a bit of citrus it can make earthy vegetables such as beetroot or any dark greens much more palatable. We use 1 tbsp per litre.
- In curry paste or stir-fry sauce – you can make these in bulk and freeze or refrigerate in jars for quick mid-week dinners. We’ll put some recipes together soon.
- In fermented vegetables – if you’re into fermenting, try adding it to beetroot or carrot with some orange zest – 1 tbsp per litre. It’s also useful on its own as a fermented condiment – for salad dressings or mixed with oil and drizzled over leafy greens.
- In cakes and cookies, like our gluten-free gingerbread biscuits (pictured below).
- You can save the peelings and freeze them separately. Make sure you wash them carefully before use, as mud can sometimes get lodged in the crevices. Discard any mouldy bits too.
- The peelings can be boiled in water as a spicy hot drink – great for colds with lemon juice, or to warm up on cold days. You can also steep them with fresh mint in the summer, and chill for a refreshing iced tea.
- We use our peelings in kombucha – just add them to the water when making the tea, and strain them out when you remove the teabags.
- It was one of the first spices to be imported from Asia to Europe during the spice trade.
- In the Middle Ages, one pound of it was as valuable as one sheep.
- It was popular with Romans and Ancient Greeks. The latter used to put a piece inside bread to aid digestion – a precursor of today’s gingerbread.
- Early European gingerbread was made with ground almonds and stale bread. This was pressed into wooden moulds and decorated with white icing (or gold paint for the super-rich).
- Queen Elizabeth I is said to have offered the first gingerbread men to her visitors, made in their own likenesses.
- Brewed ginger beer originated in Yorkshire the 18th Century.
- The modern concept of negligence came from the case of Donoghue v Stevenson (1932). A snail in a bottle of ginger beer caused Mrs Donoghue to fall ill. For the first time, the manufacturer – Stevenson – was held accountable.
“An I had but one penny in the world, thou shouldst have it to buy gingerbread”
– William Shakespeare, Love’s Labours Lost
Got any tips or questions of your own about ginger? Leave us a comment below, we’d love to hear from you.