What You Don't Know About The Root Ginger
The Magical Root
You might not know it, but ginger — yes, shimmering, grossly bulbous, wonderfully pungent ginger — has a pretty rich history.
Indigenous to southern China, ginger came to the western world on the carts and ships of exotic spice dealers roughly 4,000 years ago. Boasting fanciful tales of their aromatic bounty, merchants were able to charge a premium for the dried and often powdered root, attributing its rarity to the cruel dispositions of the “winged beasts” who guarded it. Not surprisingly, the delicious combination of intrigue and tingling flavor quickly catapulted ginger into the hearts of many, establishing it forever as the darling of the spice trade.
After a few centuries, the Spaniards figured out how to cultivate the stuff, and voilà! (or, more appropriately, ¡y ahí está!) — today, we’re able to have year-round access to this warming, spicy treat.
Despite residing in our pantries for eons, many domestic cooks still view this mysterious, lumpy root as nothing more than an accent to Asian cuisines, which in a way, kind of makes sense.
A hot fragrant spice made from the rhizome of a plant. It is chopped or powdered for cooking, preserved in syrup or candied.
A Southeast Asian plant, which resembles bamboo in appearance, from which this rhizome is taken.
Gingered Beet and Apple Salad
Using the shredding blade of a food processor or a grater, shred the beets, apples and carrots. Mix well with the remaining ingredients. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately or refrigerate to let flavors blend.
Recipe courtesy of New Leaf Market
“People there have been using ginger much longer, so you would find ginger in their dishes more often,” said Meagan Lagasse, local chef and owner of the Soup Swift restaurant. “We cook with ginger every fall with pumpkin pie and molasses cookies, or what have you, though. Those all have powdered ginger, which is actually the same root.”
See? No reason to be nervous: Ginger’s already firmly inside the west’s slowly-but-surely expanding comfort zone.
If considering incorporating fresh ginger into an upcoming meal, look for a long and relatively smooth piece with minimal numbs. The smoother the exterior, the easier it will be to peel and slice. Remember to slice against the grain (or lengthwise) for a cleaner cut.
“If it’s wrinkly at all, and if it’s not hard, then it’s not fresh,” advised Lagasse. She also recommends buying organic whenever possible. In her kitchen, she finds that organic ginger results in a more distinct flavor.
But alas, all ginger is not created equally. As a result, sometimes improvisation is required.
“It’s a natural product,” emphasized Lagasse. “Some ginger is spicier than other ginger. You can’t really regulate that. Sometimes, even though last time when you made the recipe maybe you needed a thumbs length, maybe you’ll get a (piece of) ginger that’s more mild the next time, you might actually need two thumbs length. So it’s important to get a nice, long piece.”
Ginger isn’t just fun for our taste buds. Recent research proves it’s actually good for us. And health care professionals are taking notice, too.
“Certainly the known benefits (deal with) nausea, morning sickness in pregnant women and motion sickness,” explained Heather Fisher, a dietician with Florida State University’s Health Promotion. “Those are commonly known. The ones that are receiving more evidence in literature would be for improvements with symptoms from osteoarthritis pain, rheumatoid arthritis and muscle and joint pain in general.”
A good alternative to many of our more disadvantageous seasonings (yes, salt, we’re talking about you), ginger is often recommended for people subscribing to a Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension plan (commonly known as DASH diets) to boost their flavor factor without ginning up their sodium intake. For the calorie conscious, ginger is also an easy substitute.
The root’s hot, almost peppery flavor tends to weaken as it’s cooked. Once reduced, the softer texture lends itself to variety of recipes — from artisan libations to seafood entrees, vegetarian and vegan dishes and gourmet desserts.
“Green smoothies are very, very popular now,” added Cristin Burns, marketing and project manager director for New Leaf Market Co-op. “People are using them to get more of their daily fruits and vegetables, specifically leafy greens. A lot of green smoothies incorporate greens, fresh ginger and lemon juice. It’s real bright and refreshing … and the ginger adds a little kick. And there’s certainly a digestive component to that.”