Rooting for Ginger
A plant native to China, this enduringly popular rhizome (not actually a root as it is commonly known as) is one of the essential flavours in Cantonese cuisine. Asia has a long history with the herb; it was even said that ancient philosopher Confucius never had a meal without it. The holy book of Islam, the Koran, states that ginger is considered a heavenly herb served at feasts in Paradise, and this aromatic plant has also long been used in Japanese and Indian recipes, for both culinary and medicinal purposes. That's right, not just for flavour, ginger is one of the supermedicines of nature too.
Photo credit: UDEL
In traditional Chinese medicine, ginger is regarded as a tonic for generating yang energy and even the word for it, jiang, means "defend". Considered to be a strength-building food, ginger is said to stimulate circulation by increasing the body's metabolic rate as well as reducing both inflammation and cholestrol. The digestion of fatty foods is thought to be aided by this little rhizome, as well as the breaking down of proteins. Different forms of the herb, like ginger tea are often prescribed to relieve nausea caused by motion sickness and this superplant is "antimicrobial", meaning it kills bacteria, relieves gas pain and basically sounds like it cures all ails! Perhaps a good rule of thumb should be, if you feel poorly, have some ginger, and if you don't want to feel poorly, eat ginger daily.
Bite into a fresh ginger root, and you will feel the sun's fire stored in the paper brown wrapper
It being such a tasty herb and all, this isn't such a tough task. Often described as a spice with its strong distinctive flavour, Thai cookery uses ginger as an enhance to many coconut milk curries, often blending it into a paste with other spices. In India and Sri Lanka, ginger is fried, to give a rich but milder tone. In the Himalayas, ginger tea heats bodies in freezing temperatures from the inside, with its pleasantly pungent taste that comes from natural chemical irritants that produce a warm sensation on the tongue. In the West, it's typically used in sweet treats like gingerbread, ginger cake and biscuits and ginger ale whereas in Japan they pickle it to make gari or beni shoga or have it raw with sushi and noodles. It's also a traditional ingredient in Korean kimchi where it's finely minced and included in the spicy sauce just before fermentation. And of course it is an integral part of Chinese cooking with its unique tang bringing life to stir-fries, stews and Szechuan dishes.
Tiny tip: Ginger can be stored in the freezer, which also makes it easier to grate, and then stuck straight back in when you're finished so none of this perfectly pungent rhizome goes to waste!
Ginger comes in many forms, be it fresh, ground, preserved or pickled, always with its signature sharp, camphoraceous aroma and warming properties. When buying ginger, choose the firmest, smoothest piece you can find with crisp stems. Ginger shouldn't be dark or shriveled and should break with a clean snap. Store unpeeled in a cool, dry place.