Ingredient focus... ginger
A culinary spice and medicinal marvel, Jo Lewin gives the nutritional low-down on this versatile seasoning.
The Zingiberaceae botanical family to which ginger belongs includes three spices: turmeric, cardamom and ginger. From ancient India and China to Greece and Rome, the rhizome (root) of ginger has been revered as a culinary and medicinal spice. Gingerbread, ginger beer and preserved ginger are all familiar products. But ginger is more than a seasoning - its medicinal properties have been valued and used throughout the ages.
The ginger plant is a creeping perennial with thick, tuberous underground stems and an ability to grow up to one metre in height. Cultivated mainly in tropical countries, Jamaican ginger (which is paler) is regarded as the best variety for culinary use. According to Chinese tradition, dried ginger tends to be hotter than fresh.
Native to southeastern Asia, India and China, ginger has been an integral component of the diet and valued for its aromatic, culinary and medicinal properties for thousands of years. The Romans first imported ginger from China and by the middle of the 16th century, Europe was receiving more than 2000 tonnes per year from the East Indies. The top commercial producers of ginger now include Jamaica, India, Fiji, Indonesia and Australia.
Ginger is available in various forms:
- Whole fresh roots. These provide the freshest taste
- Dried roots
- Powdered ginger. This is ground made from the dried root
- Preserved or 'stem' ginger. Fresh young roots are peeled, sliced and cooked in heavy sugar syrup
- Crystallised ginger. This is also cooked in sugar syrup, air dried and rolled in sugar
- Pickled ginger. The root is sliced paper thin and pickled in vinegar. This pickle, known in Japan as gari, often accompanies sushi to refresh the palate between courses
The origin of ginger ale...
In English pubs and taverns in the 19th century, bartenders put out small containers of ground ginger for people to sprinkle into their beer. And it was the ancient Greeks who prized ginger so highly that they mixed it into their bread, creating the first gingerbread.
Ginger tea is great to drink when you feel a cold coming on. It is a diaphoretic tea, meaning that it will warm you from the inside and promote perspiration. It is also good when you don't have a cold and just want to warm up!
To make ginger tea (for nausea)...
Steep 20-40g of fresh, sliced ginger in a cup of hot water. Add a slice of lemon or a drop of honey if you fancy.