A guide to ginger, how to store and use in the kitchen plus health benefits.
Most Westerners associate ginger with sweet dishes such as gingerbread men, ginger cake, ginger biscuits, as well as drinks such as ginger beer and ginger ale. However, in the East, where ginger originated, ginger is mainly used in savoury dishes such as curries and hot stir-fries.
Ginger is a reed-like plant, which bears small fragrant flowers and can grow up to a metre tall. The part of the plant that produces the spice is actually the "root" or rhizome, which is the correct botanical term.
What is ginger?
The mature ginger rhizome has a thick brown skin, is very firm to touch and is knobbly in appearance.
The flesh inside is typically a white, yellow or light green colour, depending on which of the many varieties it is. This is the type of ginger that is most widely available in European and American supermarkets and can be bought either fresh or dried.
Really young ginger, which has a thin skin, does not have to be peeled and can easily be sliced and added straight to the pan whilst cooking, is quite hard to come across. You probably won't have much luck in your local supermarket and would have to venture to an Asian food store or market to find some.
Ground ginger is what we usually use in baking and is very different in taste to fresh ginger. Fresh ginger has a much more pungent and hot flavour and dried ginger is rather poor in comparison, not to mention it is not as beneficial medicinally as the fresh version.
Where does ginger originate?
Ginger is a member of the Zingiberaceae family and its botanical name is "Zingiber officinalis". It is thought to have originated in the tropical forests located in Southeast Asia.
Ginger has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine over 2000 years ago and the Romans were the first to bring the spice to Europe.
In the 16th century, the Spanish introduced the spice to the West Indies and South American countries, where they had colonies and power, in a bid to lessen the distance of the journey from China back to Europe.
Nowadays, ginger is cultivated in many of the hot and humid countries in Southeast Asia, such as India, China, Fiji and Indonesia, as well as other countries such as Brazil, Jamaica, Sierra Leone and Australia.
Health benefits of ginger
There have been many studies and research into the health benefits of ginger and more so in recent years. Ginger has long been renowned for its ability to relieve all types of sickness and nausea, as well as acting as a strong anti-inflammatory and as an aid to poor circulation.
Ginger is also used in aromatherapy as an essential oil to treat a number of complaints. The essential oil can be added to baths, used as a massaging rub or made into a compress and applied to aching muscles and joints. Ginger can also be taken as capsules, which are available from any health food outlet.
Below is a list of the healing properties of ginger and how it can be used to benefit one's health:
- Ginger has a warming and invigorating effect on the body.
- It can boost poor circulation, particularly in the hands and feet.
- Ginger can relieve the pain of arthritic and rheumatic joints, as well as sports related muscle injuries.
- It is said to help cellulite and varicose veins.
- A ginger tea will promote sweating and lower a high temperature and relieve flu symptoms.
- Ginger tea can help to clear up congestion, catarrh and chest infections such as bronchitis.
- Ginger also has antiseptic properties.
- Ginger prevents motion sickness such as when travelling by car, coach or boat. It can also stop nausea and vomiting.
- Ginger can relieve indigestion, reduce flatulence and calm the digestive system.
- Chewing on ginger can help to ease toothache.
- Ginger contains components that help to clear up mucous.
- Ginger speeds up digestion and a ginger tea taken after a meal will help.
- Ginger can help to thin the blood, which is particularly important if an anti-coagulant is needed.
- Ginger is said to promote menstruation.
- It can be used to lower high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
- Research has found that ginger contains many anti-oxidant components and can help prevent against some forms of cancer.
- Ginger stimulates the liver and the elimination of harmful toxins and waste from the body.
How to store and prepare fresh ginger
When buying fresh ginger, choose a root that is firm and smooth to the touch. A root that appears dry, wilted or cracked will not be as fresh and should be avoided.
Some people prefer not to store fresh ginger in the refrigerator, as it can go mouldy. If you do choose to store it in the refrigerator, wrap the ginger in cling film and it should keep for several weeks. Otherwise, ginger can be kept at room temperature, away from mild foods that could take on its flavour.
Ginger can also be kept in the freezer for much longer, but to the detriment of the flavour and quality.
Fresh ginger must usually be peeled before using in cooking. This involves removing the thick outer skin either with a sharp and sturdy knife or with a vegetable peeler.
Subsequently, the ginger can be sliced, diced, minced, grated or chopped and then incorporated into the dish that you are preparing.
Some ideas on how to use ginger in the kitchen
- Use ground ginger in biscuits, milk puddings and desserts, gingerbread and cakes.
- Add ginger to homemade jams and pickles
- Add chopped or grated ginger to curries and all types of stir-fries.
- Use ginger for marinades for poultry and meat.
- Use chopped ginger together with garlic and onion as an addition to vegetables or meat.
- Use fresh ginger to make spicy curries or coconut milk creamy curries.
- Use to make a refreshing ginger lemonade or ginger ale.
- Use ginger with any type of Chinese style sauce made with soy sauce.
- Add grated ginger to spice up rice or couscous.
- Add ginger to olive oil and garlic to make a tasty dressing for salad.
- Add to freshly juiced carrots and apples for an invigorating pick-me-up drink.
- Sprinkle dried ginger over apple or rhubarb crumble.
- Make a ginger tea sweetened with honey.
A selection of sweet and savoury dishes that have ginger in their list of ingredients. Recipes include sticky gingerbread, shrimp with ginger, special fried rice with ginger and ginger biscuits.
Special Fried Rice with Ginger
This is a spicy fried rice dish based on a Chinese recipe and it contains lots of delicious ingredients. It is a meal in itself and can be eaten on its own.
- 8 oz (225 g) of chopped ham
- 5 oz (140 g) of long-grain rice
- 5 oz (140 g) of peeled and cooked prawns (shrimp)
- 5 oz (140 g) of bean sprouts
- 3 oz (85 g) of cooked peas
- 3 sliced spring onions
- 2 beaten eggs
- 2 crushed cloves of garlic
- 2 tbsp of light soy sauce
- 2 tbsp of vegetable oil
- 1 tsp of freshly grated root ginger
- Cook the rice according to packet instructions and then drain thoroughly under cold running water.
- Heat 1 tbsp of the vegetable oil in a wok or a large frying pan.
- Add the beaten eggs and 1 tsp more of the vegetable oil. Cover the base of the wok with the egg and allow to cook flat without stirring.
- Once the underside has browned, flip the egg pancake over and cook on the other side for 1 minute.
- Remove the egg from the wok and set aside to cool.
- Heat the remaining oil in the wok and add the crushed garlic and ginger root.
- After 30 seconds add the sliced spring onions, bean sprouts, ham, peas and prawns. Fry all of the ingredients for 2 minutes stirring frequently.
- Add the soy sauce and the rice and mix all the ingredients together. Cook for a final 2 minutes.
- Remove the rice from the heat and transfer to warm plates or a large serving dish.
- Roll up the egg pancake and slice thinly with a knife. Decorate the rice with the egg roll slices. Serve immediately.
Shrimp with Ginger
This dish is light and not too heavy on the stomach. It is quick to make and nutritious, perfect if you don't have a lot of time to cook.
- 1 lb (455 g) of peeled raw king prawns
- 8 oz (225 g) of diced carrots
- 3½ oz (100 g) of bean sprouts
- 3½ oz (100 g) of frozen peas
- 1 diced onion
- 1 tbsp of tomato purée
- 1 tbsp of soy sauce
- 1 tsp of Chinese five-spice powder
- 2-inch piece of fresh root ginger
- vegetable oil for frying
- Using a very sharp knife, remove the outer skin of the ginger and then slice into very thin sticks.
- Heat 1-inch of vegetable oil in a wok or large frying pan and fry the ginger strips until crispy.
- Remove from the wok and allow to drain on a paper towel. Set aside.
- Discard all of the oil from the wok apart from 2 tbsp.
- Add the diced carrots together with the diced onion and fry for about 5 minutes.
- Add the frozen peas and the bean sprouts and stir-fry for a further 2 minutes.
- Rinse the uncooked prawns in cold water and then pat dry with a paper towel.
- In a small mixing bowl, mix together the soy sauce, tomato purée and the Chinese five-spice until a smooth paste has formed.
- Using a pastry brush, coat the prawns with this mixture.
- Add the prawns to the wok and cook until they are cooked through completely. This should take a few minutes. Do not overcook the prawns otherwise they will become rubbery.
- Transfer the prawns and vegetables to a serving dish and top with the reserved ginger. Serve immediately.
This gingerbread cake is delicious, rich and moist and will disappear from the plate as soon as it has been made.
- 8 oz (225 g) of plain flour
- 4 fl oz (115 ml) of milk
- 4 oz (115 g) of butter
- 4 oz (115 g) of black treacle
- 4 oz (115 g) of golden syrup
- 4 oz (115 g) of chopped stem ginger
- 2 oz (55 g) of soft dark brown sugar
- 2 beaten eggs
- 2 tsp of ground ginger
- 1 tsp of mixed spice
- 1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda
- pinch of salt
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
- Grease an 8-inch square cake tin with butter.
- Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the ground ginger, mixed spice, bicarbonate of soda and salt.
- Place the butter, black treacle, golden syrup and brown sugar into a pan and warm up over a gentle heat, stirring frequently until the butter has melted and the ingredients have blended together.
- Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
- Make a well in the centre of the flour and add the beaten eggs, milk and the butter and syrup mixture.
- Mix all of the ingredients together until the mixture is smooth.
- Stir in the chopped stem ginger.
- Pour the cake mixture into the prepared cake tin and place into the preheated oven. Bake for 1 hour or until the top of the cake springs back when gently pressed.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin before turning the gingerbread out onto a wire rack.
- Cut the gingerbread into squares and enjoy.
These biscuits are so quick and easy to prepare yet they are still wonderfully tasty. They are crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, much better than the commercially produced biscuits you find in the shops.
- 4 oz (115 g) of self-raising flour
- 2 oz (55 g) of butter
- 2 tbsp of golden syrup
- 2 tsp of caster sugar
- 1½ tsp of ground ginger
- ½ tsp of cinnamon
- ½ tsp of bicarbonate of soda
- Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°) grease a baking tray with butter.
- Place the butter into a small saucepan with the golden syrup and warm on a medium-low heat. Stir frequently so that the butter melts and blends into the syrup. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- Place the flour, sugar, ginger, cinnamon and bicarbonate of soda into a mixing bowl and make a well in the centre.
- Pour in the butter and syrup mixture and stir the ingredients together until a wet dough is formed.
- Take small teaspoon-size lumps of the mixture and shape them into small balls. Flatten slightly and place onto the prepared baking tray, leaving a little space between each biscuit.
- Place in the oven and bake for 10 minutes until the biscuits are golden brown in colour.
- Remove from the oven, allow to cool on the tray and then transfer to a wire cooling rack.
- Store in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
Ginger and Orange Chicken Stir-Fry
The orange segments in this chicken stir-fry dish make it wonderfully refreshing and tasty and the ginger gives it a lot of added depth too.
- 12 oz (340 g) of chicken breasts
- 6 oz (170 g) of thinly sliced carrots
- 3½ fl oz (100 ml) of orange juice
- 1 orange
- 1 sliced onion
- 4 tbsp of sherry
- 2 tbsp of freshly grated ginger root
- 2 tbsp of vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp of tomato purée
- 1 tbsp of brown sugar
- 1 tsp of ground ginger
- 1 tsp of cornflour
- 1 crushed clove of garlic
- a few chives to garnish
- Heat the vegetable oil in a wok or a large frying pan.
- Add the onion, garlic and carrots and fry over a high heat for 2 - 3 minutes.
- Cut the chicken into thin strips and add to the wok.
- Fry for a few minutes and then add the grated ginger root and the dried ginger powder.
- Mix well, coating the chicken pieces with the ginger and stir-fry until the chicken is fully cooked and golden brown in colour.
- In a small mixing bowl, combine the orange juice, sherry, tomato purée, sugar and the cornflour until all the ingredients have blended together.
- Pour into the wok and mix well.
- Cook until the juices begin to thicken.
- Peel the orange and break into segments. Add to the wok and toss with the chicken. Do not allow to cook for too long.
- Remove from the heat and transfer into serving dishes or bowls.
- Garnish with freshly chopped chives and serve immediately.