Ginger is an erect plant with thickened, fleshy and aromatic rhizomes. Used in different forms as a food, flavouring and spice, it is related to turmeric and galangal, and is one of the most ancient culinary and medicinal spices around.
“Everything good is found in ginger”.
— An Ancient Indian Proverb
Did you know that 50% of the world’s harvest of ginger is produced in India? It is also found in Central Asia, Brazil, China, Mexico, Jamaica and Nigeria.
The pale creamy yellow root (actually a rhizome) is widely (and indispensably) used in Asian and Indian cooking, and is often found in herbal teas and in fresh fruit juices. It has a sharp, pungent and cleansing taste, sometimes described as peppery, lemon like and slightly sweet, and is a digestive as well.
The irregularly jointed rhizomes are around 1.25 – 2.5 cms in diameter and have a paper-thin beige or golden skin. Pieces vary from small bits to large “hands”. Fresh ginger should be firm and glossy skinned, without wrinkles or fibrousness where the knobs have been broken. Select rizhomes tht are clear-skinned and robust, no wrinkles or shrivelling or fungal rot. Examine the places where the rhizomes have been freshly broken. The more protruding fibres, the older the root. Young ginger is more tender and sweet, but old ginger is considered more potent and henceforth preferred for cooking purposes. Young ginger is great to use raw in salads and other dishes. Older ginger is grated or shredded and cooked in dishes for a ginger flavour.
Usually, but not always, it is peeled before use. The easiest way is to scrape with a spoon or with the blade of a small knife held perpendicular to the surface.
Young or New Ginger
Baby, green, spring or young ginger is very excellent. Young ginger has a pale thin skin, is very tender and has a milder flavour than the mature form. It is great sliced as it is into salads and stir fried dishes, soups and broths and doesn’t have to be peeled before use. Mature ginger has a tougher skin. Look for a smooth skin, even in the mature form, as wrinkled skin indicates that the root is dry and past its prime.
Store the root wrapped in kitchen paper and in plastic bags in the fridge. It will keep for up to 3 weeks and can be frozen for up to 6 months – this is an excellent way of keeping ginger especially over Winter.
Or ginger can also be stored in a dry cool place. Many people like to bury it in a dryish sandy soil. This way they can break off and retrieve small portions as they need while the rest generously keeps growing.
Alternatively, peel a large piece of ginger and cover with dry sherry or Aged Rice Wine; cover and refrigerate for up to 3 months, using as needed. You can use the sherry or rice wine vinegar in salad dressings, and Chinese recipes. Another method of preserving it is to make pickled ginger.
Uses of Ginger
Ginger is often found in spice and curry pastes. Indian cooks will generally add ginger with spices in hot oil before adding to a dish. Chinese Cantonese cooks prefer to boil, braise or steam ginger but not fry it outright as in their traditional system, this will excessively intensify its heating qualities. Other Chinese think that the Cantonese are too sensitive and that certain dishes, especially those of cooling vegetables, need the heat.
To prepare ginger, peel it and then either slice it into thin shreds, chop in coarse chunks, or grate it finely.
It is also included in dipping sauces for noodles, fried foods and other snacks.
If ginger juice is required, good quality ginger can be pressed in a garlic press to extract the juice. If it is older ginger, it can be chopped or grated before pressing. Alternatively, ginger graters are available from good kitchen shops – squeeze the grated ginger to extract the juice.
Ginger paste can be made by mincing in the food processor or grinder, a large portion at a time, then covered and refrigerated for up to a week – longer if vinegar and salt are added. Add it to Indian dishes salad dressings and spicy sauces, relishes and chutneys. Alternatively, it can be minced into a ginger-garlic paste.
Ginger slivers can be deep fried until crispy and used as a textural and flavoursome garnish or dishes.
Some simple uses of ginger include:
- Shreds of ginger floated in red vinegar make a good dipping sauce. Add minced green onions, shallots, chillies, soy sesame oil, sugar, rice wine vinegar etc according to taste.
- When steaming tofu, lie shreds of ginger over and under the tofu.
- When stirfrying vegetables, add shreds of ginger when you add the water, place the lid on and allow to steam. This is very good for bland vegetables.
- Add crushed slices to soups.
Health Benefits of Ginger
Ginger is so good for you – have some every day in fresh fruit juices such as orange, apple, carrot, beetroot, watermelon etc, or in herbal teas. A straight ginger tea or ginger with lemon grass is excellent and very fine. You can make ginger juice either by putting straight through a juicer, or blending with a little water in a food processor and then straining through a fine sieve or through muslin. It will keep a couple of days stored in the fridge.
It is considered a yang food in the Chinese health system and amongst other things, it helps to eliminate colds, and cooked with beans and cabbage can eliminate the windy after effects of eating these dishes. It is proven to eliminate nausea due to motion sickness, food poisoning or surgery. Any form of ginter – fresh, dry, powdered, juiced or candied seems to work for this purpose.
Ginger’s rhizomes contain a 1 – 2% volatile oil. Its therapeutic uses reportedly include carminative, anti nauseant and anti-flatulence agents. Traditional Chinese medicine has recommended ginger for over 2,500 years for abdominal bloating, coughing, vomiting, diarrhoea and rheumatism, and is used in the Ayurvedic and Tibb systems for the treatment of inflammatory joint diseases such as arthritis. It is reportedly supports a healthy cardiovascular system, and is a classic tonic for the digestive tract, aiding digestion and keeping the intestinal muscles toned. It eases the transport of substances through the digestive tract, lessening irritation to the intestinal walls.
Don’t substitute powdered ginger for fresh ginger – it is a completely different taste. Powdered ginger is great in baking gingerbread cakes and biscuits, or adding to Middle Eastern and African spice mixes – e.g. Ras el Hanout. Some Indian variations of garam masala also use it, and Chai recipes can include dried ginger.
from the Ginger Series
- Ginger Garlic Lentil Soup
- Ginger-Garlic Paste
- Smashed Garlic and Ginger Cucumber Salad
- Carrots with Cumin and Ginger