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.
|4.6 calories||0.2g protein||0.1g fat||0.9g carbohydrate||0.0g fibre|
The benefits of ginger tea
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.
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.
The many curative properties of ginger are widely researched. Used on the skin it can stimulate the circulation and soothe burns. As a diaphoretic it encourages perspiration, so it can be used in feverish conditions such as influenza or colds. The root, which is the part of the plant most widely used in alternative forms of medicine, is rich in volatile oils. It is these oils that contain the active component gingerol.
Soothes digestive system...
Historically, ginger has a long tradition of being very effective in alleviating discomfort and pain in the stomach. Ginger is regarded as an excellent carminative, a substance that promotes the elimination of excessive gas from the digestive system and soothes the intestinal tract. Colic, and dyspepsia , respond particularly well to ginger.
Gingerroot appears to reduce the symptoms associated with motion sickness including dizziness, nausea, vomiting and cold sweating. Ginger has also been used to treat the nausea and vomiting associated with pregnancy including hyperemesis gravidarum , the most severe form of sickness related to pregnancy.
Ginger also contains very potent anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols. These substances are believed to explain why so many people with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis experience reductions in their pain levels and improvements in their mobility when they consume ginger regularly. Gingerols inhibit the formation of inflammatory cytokines; chemical messengers of the immune system.
Fresh ginger can be purchased in most supermarkets. Mature ginger has a tough skin that requires peeling. Fresh ginger can be stored in the fridge for up to three weeks if it is left unpeeled. Whenever possible, choose fresh ginger over dried since it is superior in flavour and contains higher levels of the active component gingerol. The root should be fresh looking, firm, smooth and free of mould with no signs of decay or wrinkled skin. If choosing dry ginger, keep it in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dark dry place for no more than six months.
Ginger is very safe for a broad range of complaints, whether it is taken in a concentrated capsule form, eaten fresh or sipped as a tea or ginger ale. Ginger contains moderate amounts of oxalate. Individuals with a history of oxalate-containing kidney stones should avoid overconsuming ginger. If you're unsure or concerned whether it is safe for you to consume ginger always consult your doctor.
Gingerbread biscuits are a classic for all the family:
Double ginger gingerbread men
Or add spice to a slice of cake:
Triple ginger & spice cake
Jo Lewin holds a degree in nutritional therapy and works as a community health nutritionist and private consultant. She is an accredited member of BANT and is covered by the association's code of ethics and practice.