Years ago, ginger was most commonly used as a spice. It was dried, ground and baked into cakes, sweet breads and desserts.
Nowadays, however, we fully understand how to make the most of ginger, including how to use it and the therapeutic properties & incredible flavours it contains.
How to use ginger at home
DID YOU KNOW?
Ginger has long been one of the most sought-after spices on the market. As part of the ancient spice trade, dried ginger root made its way from the exotic Orient through the Middle East to Europe, where it was very popular.
Widely used throughout antiquity, its value has always been high – and it’s said that in the Middle Ages, the price of a half a kilogram of ginger was the same as the price of a whole sheep.
Meanwhile, the ancient Chinese were also known to use ginger for its antibacterial and antioxidant benefits.
The philosopher Confucius said he never ate a meal without ginger, and he would keep a side dish of the spice beside him as he ate to flavour foods and hide the developing rancidity of fats in meats and dairy foods.
The ancient Greeks and Romans would use ginger to protect against poisoning, and the Greek philosopher Pythagoras – who was a vegetarian – would use ginger to expel gas from his stomach and intestines, and wrote diligently about it.
Ginger was used as a medicinal tincture in the 1300s during the plague, and Henry VIII famously envisaged its powerful composition would help wipe out disease.
Its healing powers have been widely celebrated, and it’s clear that the spice has been central to a host of cultural traditions and beliefs.
Nutritional benefits of ginger
Ginger is a vasodilator, which means it helps the blood to flow more easily around the body.
Nutritionally, ginger contains high doses of magnesium and vitamins C and B6, but it has very little or no fat, sugars or salt.
Both Chinese and Ayurvedic systems of medicine value ginger as an important medicinal aid, and it is recognised for its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial compounds.
Ayurvedic doctrine uses ginger to help treat digestion and respiratory issues, as the amazing spice contains phenolic compounds that can relieve gastrointestinal irritations.
Research has shown that ginger can be taken for everything from morning sickness to motion and post-op sickness. It can also assist in reducing muscle pains, relieving hangovers, and expelling excessive flatulence.
It encourages the production of saliva, and may be used as an expectorant when cold and flu symptoms arise.
How to cook with ginger
Powdered or dried ginger tastes slightly spicier and sweeter than the fresh version, and it is most commonly used in baking.
With crystallised ginger, the root has been candied, and small cubes are dipped in sugar to preserve them.
It’s generally used in desserts, as a decoration, or simply eaten as a sweet.
Stem ginger is from the stem of the rhizome that connects the leaves to the root.
It’s been preserved in a thick sugar syrup, and it can usually be used anywhere ginger is required.
Crushed, chilled ginger is great to have in the fridge if making smoothies and citrus drinks.
Galangal looks similar to ginger, except it’s thinner and the shoots are pink.
The roots are usually prepared the same way as ginger, but the taste is more suited to curries and satays.
How to grow ginger
The ginger plant itself looks like tall enlarged grass, with flowers that range from yellow to purple.
To grow ginger properly, it requires hot, humid and shady conditions, and the plant won’t tolerate frost or soil temperatures below 18°C in the winter.
Once planted, ginger needs about 10-11 months before it is ready for harvest.
How to buy ginger
It’s easy to identify fresh ginger in the store. The roots will be plump, firm, shiny and heavy.
Shrivelling or dried ends will indicate that it is beginning to dehydrate.
A longer root is a sign of maturity, while a green tinge in the skin will indicate immaturity.
The more mature the root, the spicier the ginger will taste.
How to store ginger
Fresh ginger will last for about a week at room temperature, but it is best kept refrigerated, wrapped tightly in paper towels.
Alternatively, a piece of ginger can last for weeks stored in the fridge in a beeswax wrap.
Dried ginger should be stored in airtight glass jars in a cool, dark place; and the same goes for preserved ginger.
Pickled ginger should always be stored in the fridge for longevity.
Instead of letting leftover ginger dry out in the fruit bowl or fridge, keep leftover pieces in the freezer.
A hunk of frozen ginger can easily be grated and added to a stew, a casserole or even a simple cup of tea.
Ginger is also very easily preserved in a sugar syrup, and can even be pickled.
SMART TIP: Ginger juices
If you don’t like ginger’s fine fibres showing up in your dishes, finely grate 2-3 tablespoons of ginger root then squeeze the liquid from the flesh into a small bowl.
Use the liquid in your cooking for all of the flavour with none of the fibres.
Try these tasty ginger recipes: