Ginger is the bumpy root of the Zingiber officinale plant that has been widely used in cooking and traditional medicine for centuries. Ginger renders some zing to savory Asian, Indian, and Caribbean dishes. In the West, it flavors bread and cookies.
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What is ginger?
Ginger is a highly versatile tropical plant that is popular worldwide. There are several varieties of ginger, including ornamental ginger plants known for their exotic colors and beautiful blooms.
In the culinary world, ginger often refers to the ginger root from the rhizome or underground stems of the Zingiber officinale. The plant belongs to the same family as turmeric and cardamom.
Ginger is considered a universal spice and is often featured in various seafood, meat, vegetable dishes, and drinks.
|Origin||Mostly China and India|
|Appearance||Gnarled, long, or irregularly-shaped root with light brown skin and yellowish flesh|
|Flavor profile||Sweet and a bit peppery|
Ginger has been used for thousands of years in China and India as a spice, flavoring, and side dish. Because it’s rich in antioxidants and packs anti-inflammatory properties, it is also a regular item in traditional medicine and healthcare. First domesticated in Southeast Asia, ginger crossed the oceans and reached the Americas and Europe via the spice trade.
There are several varieties of ginger belonging to the family Zingiberaceae. The most common in the market would be the Chinese or Indian ginger widely used in soups and stews in the East. This type of ginger is present in candies, baked goodies, ginger ale, and ginger tea in the West.
Ginger is a gnarled, long, or irregularly-shaped root with light brown skin and yellowish flesh. The skin of the ginger root is often peeled before consumption. The flesh of the ginger is firm and fibrous.
It is an accessible spice often available as fresh ginger, dried ginger, ginger powder, ginger extract, ginger powder, pickled, or candied. You can also get it as a ginger paste, a beverage, or a supplement.
The flavor of fresh ginger comes as both sweet and slightly peppery. The bite of fresh ginger is because of the gingerol compound it contains. The sweetness of the aromatic spice is attributed to other biochemicals it carries, such as ketones (zingerones, shogaols, paradol) and terpenoids (zingiberene, zingiberol, bisabolene, among others).
Ginger is a versatile ingredient complementary to other spices like fennel, cardamom, and turmeric.
Nutritional Benefits of ginger
Ginger does not only make food taste better, but it also comes packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. The gingerol in ginger is known to help improve gastrointestinal motility or bowel movement. It may also aid digestion as it benefits certain pancreatic enzymes.
Ginger may also help treat nausea. Experts say ginger may help treat the nausea of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Another use of ginger is to help pregnant women deal with their morning sickness.
The anti-inflammatory properties of ginger also make it suitable for:
- Osteoarthritis pain relief
There were also studies before that demonstrated the potential of ginger to lower the levels of bad cholesterol in the body and promote weight loss.
Consumption of ginger is safe in normal amounts without side effects. However, large amounts, such as those in ginger dietary supplements, may increase bleeding risk.
Why is ginger so popular?
Through the years, ginger gained popularity because of its flavor, versatility, and potential health benefits. It is also easily accessible. Cooks and believers in herbal medicine can easily buy ginger in various forms from local groceries or online.
What is the best way to eat ginger?
According to healthcare and wellness experts, if you want to enjoy the health benefits of ginger, it is best to enjoy it in beverages and food instead of taking ginger supplements.
Aside from the popular gingerbread and ginger ale, you can easily incorporate ginger into different food and drinks. You can use it in:
- Ginger-soy steamed fish
- Carrot-ginger soup
- Ginger tea
- Garlic ginger chicken wings
- Ginger beef
- Ginger cake
Different forms of ginger compared
You can get ginger in various forms:
|Ground or powdered ginger||Dried and ground ginger root; primarily used in curries and sweets.|
|Fresh ginger||Available as young or spring ginger and mature ginger root. Grate, chop, ground, or prepare in the best way that fits your intended use of ginger.|
|Dried ginger||Either dried whole ginger fingers or slices. Rehydrate before using.|
|Pickled ginger||Ginger pickled in vinegar is common in Japan and other Asian markets. It is usually served with sushi or as a palate cleanser.|
|Candied ginger||The ginger root is sliced and then cooked in sugar syrup. Sprinkled with sugar and usually served as dessert.|
|Ginger tea||Can be prepared by boiling fresh ginger root. There are also instant ginger tea bags available.|
|Ginger supplement||Often available as a ginger extract, essential oil, or capsule.|
How to plant and care for ginger at home?
Ginger is a tropical plant and thrives in warm climates. Ginger can grow in certain states in the US:
- Southern Texas
- Southern California
- Southern Arizona
Planting ginger in early spring is best if you want to grow ginger at home. Still, you have to prepare the ginger rhizome fingers for planting. You may also find these in your local markets or on Amazon.
Then, prepare the soil. Ginger loves good-draining soil and a location that’s in full or partial shade. Slice the ginger rhizomes with buds into 1 to 2 inches and dry them for 1 to 2 days before planting to avoid root rot.
Plant the ginger no deeper than an inch and about 12 inches apart. Water well. The first leaves will sprout in about a week or so.
If you’re in colder regions, you can plant it in a pot and move it indoors when temperatures drop at the start of winter. The plant will hit full maturity and be ready to harvest in about 8 to 12 months.