Ginger- An Unsung Hero
Ginger is a magic ingredient. Whether you feel like you are coming down with a cold, suffering from the flu, feel like your feet are dragging, or you want to add some earthy spiciness to a dish- ginger is always one of my first go to ingredients.
In fact, I always have ginger growing in a jar on my windowsill- and this, in and of itself, is often a great conversation starter! And, the magic elixir that I learned to make during a stay in Iceland, is the cure-all concoction that I always drink and push on my friends and family members as soon as I hear a hint of a sniffle. It's simple, grab a 1-inch knob of ginger, peel then grate it into a mug with the juice of a fresh lemon. Fill the remainder of the mug with very hot water, sweeten with a teaspoon of honey, stir and drink it all down as soon as it is cool enough. It may be a bit spicy, but you will feel better almost instantaneously. It even helps with upset stomachs, food poisoning, or morning sickness- amazing!
GINGER DOESN'T GET THE LOVE IT DESERVES
Turmeric may be the ingredient that you see talked about everywhere you look, but while turmeric has many health benefits, ginger should really be the star. Ginger packs as flavorful and nutritionally powerful a punch—and is easier to find fresh in stores. Also, it's pretty inexpensive to purchase and very easy to grow at home (see windowsill jar). The knobby root is indispensable to Southeast Asian curries and stir-fries, not to mention those trendy tonics also starring turmeric, and in candied or dried and ground form, it adds a spicy warmth to all kinds of baked goods. Who doesn't love a good ginger snap, gingerbread cookie or ginger beer !
Ginger is a great source of Vitamin B6, magnesium and manganese, and is used globally to alleviate gas, soothe the intestinal tract, help relieve nausea and vomiting during pregnancy, alleviate motion sickness, and serves as an anti-inflammatory (both when ingested and when used topically). Additionally, research conducted by the NIH shows that ginger's (the anti-oxidant prevalent in ginger) may protect against colorectal cancer, ovarian cancer and have immune boosting properties.
WHERE THE GOODNESS STEMS FROM
Ginger is often referred to as a root (I just did a moment ago), but technically, the plant's knobby brown rhizome, or stem, is the part we eat.
The hand-like stem (yes I know it is confusing that a ginger root is actually a stem, but at least you know now...) typically takes between eight and 10 months to grow, develop its skin, and accumulate essential compounds, called gingerols, that give it spiciness and its immunity-boosting, anti-inflammatory properties. After harvesting, ginger goes through a curing or aging process so the skin toughens up and won't bruise when packed and shipped to stores- this is the part we peel.
WHERE IT COMES FROM
There's no bad time to buy fresh ginger. It's a tropical plant that grows year-round in China and Australia- the main global suppliers. However, in the last five or so years, ginger production has also picked up in Thailand, India, Brazil, and Peru, though it's a more seasonal crop in those countries. While there are many varieties of ginger, most have the same distinctive spicy, earthy aroma.
If you see organic ginger at your supermarket, it's probably from Peru, the only commercial source of certified organic ginger, says Robert Schuller, spokesman for Melissa's Produce, the Los Angeles-based specialty produce distributor.
Ginger is a perennial reed-like plant with annual leafy stems, that grow to about 3 feet tall, however they remain smaller if grown indoors in a container. Traditionally, the rhizome (or stem) is gathered when the stalk withers; it is then immediately scalded, or washed and scraped, to kill it and prevent sprouting. But as said, if you put a leftover knob of the ginger that you bought at the supermarket in a mason jar or vase with water, it will sprout and grow!
WHAT'S YOUNG GINGER?
Young ginger is ginger harvested about halfway through the growing cycle. Its skin is tinged pink and it's thinner and paler than mature ginger—no need even to peel it. It has a mild, delicate flavor, as you might expect.
Asian markets and farmers' markets in late summer and early fall are where you'll most likely find young ginger, and there's a growing market for greenhouse-grown young ginger, but it's still a niche product and pricier than mature ginger.
HOW TO BUY AND KEEP GINGER
Choose ginger that's firm to the touch, smooth, and relatively free of blemishes. Wrinkly skin would indicate it's been sitting there for a while, and dehydrated. Firm ginger = juicy ginger.
If you're an avid ginger user, it's fine to keep it out on the counter for a couple of weeks; however, it'll last at least three to four weeks if stored in a bag or airtight container in the refrigerator crisper drawer.
For the longest storage—like three months—wrap the whole knob in plastic, pop it in an airtight bag, and freeze it. Then, just cut off sections as you need them.
Pickled ginger (not that pink stuff that reminds me of wet naps that you get at a sushi restaurant, but real grated and pickled ginger) will last, refrigerated, for at least three months and crystallized ginger for two to three months in the pantry after opening, according to the Ginger People, a supplier of ginger products. Dried ginger will keep for at least a year, but like any spice, it loses its potency over time.
MOST IMPORTANT TIP
Don't peel ginger until you're ready to use it. You can use a peeler, a fancy grater with an attached peeler or simply a spoon to scrape the skin right off. If you decide to put ginger in a juicer instead of grating, be prepared for how fiberous ginger is, so that you don't clog your machine!