Henry VIII is said to have used ginger as a medicine for its qualities, as outlined by Culpeper, the herbalist, 150 years later: ‘Ginger helps digestion, warms the stomach, clears the sight and is profitable for old men; it heats the joints and is therefore useful against gout’.
Ginger has an impressive record in treating many ailments: it is said to help poor circulation and to cure flatulence and indigestion. It is taken as a drink for coughs, nausea and influenza. In the East, ginger is chewed to ward off evil spirits. It is considered to be a cure for travel sickness and the essential oil is used in perfumery.
The ginger plant is an upright tropical plant, which is propagated by dividing the rhizomes. It grows to about 3 feet, with elegant lance-shaped leaves and yellow flowers tinged with purple or red flowers. Harvesting takes place 9-10 months after planting and in many parts of the world, this is still done by hand. Much of the crop is washed, sun dried and then ground to a powder for domestic and commercial use.
The essential oil is used in commercial flavorings. Fresh root ginger is extremely popular in a variety of stir-fry or curry dishes. It is used in different techniques; slices can be added to marinades or in cooking and removed before serving. Grated, chopped or crushed ginger is used in pastes or braised dishes. Finely shredded ginger can be added to fried or stir-fried dishes or it may be used raw in salads. Pickled or preserved ginger is served as appetizers or used in savory cooking. It is also used in Western baking, for example, in traditional ginger breads, cakes and biscuits such as ginger snaps. The spice is also used in chutneys, pickles, jams and sweet preserves as well as drinks such as ginger beer, ginger ale and ginger wine.
TYPES OF GINGER
Fresh Root Ginger Look for plump, silvery skinned pieces, which are called ‘hands’. Young ginger has smoother, thin skin firmly clinging to the firm and quite heavy root. Older ginger has thicker, papery skin which sits more loosely on the root. Avoid ginger that is wrinkled, softened or very light in weight.
Ground Ginger Pale sand-colored spice widely used in baking.
Crystallized Ginger Preserved by cooking in syrup, then dried and rolled in sugar.
Pickled Ginger A savory condiment used in Oriental cooking. Chinese pickled ginger is light, sweet and sour and quite hot in flavor. Sweet red pickled ginger is slightly tangy, but mainly sweet as it is candied. Japanese pickled ginger is more delicate than Chinese pickles.
Preserved or Stem Ginger Traditionally packed into decorative, bulbous Chinese ginger jars. The plump, tender young ginger is peeled and preserved in syrup, making it sweet and fairly spicy.
Use a little crushed ginger in marinades for pork steaks or chops.
Try adding a little finely grated fresh or chopped crystallized ginger to fruit puddings using rhubarb, plus or pears. Can even be used in crumbles or pastry pies.
Make a soothing tea when you’re feeling under the weather. Drop a slice or two into a mug and add hot water and honey along with a cinnamon stick and a slice of lemon or orange or add a slice to some lemon tea. Ginger tea is also a natural remedy for menstrual cramps and helps relieve stress. It encourages normal blood circulation, strengthens immunity and reduces inflammation.
Minced fried ginger can be added to Asian dishes just as you would fried garlic to Italian dishes. It takes ordinary rice to a new level!
Got an overload of ginger? You can freeze fresh ginger. Simply freeze the whole root in a resealable plastic bag. You can then use it without thawing. Using a sharp knife, peel off the skin for the amount needed and then use a microplane to grate what you need. Don’t leave the whole root out to thaw as it will become soft and mushy when thawed.
Hmmm….I may just have to go make myself a cup of ginger tea…..