The Spice Route: Ginger

spices whole gingerGinger is a relatively new addition to my panty. I was first introduced to cooking with fresh ginger about 12 years ago, with this Teriyaki Pork Tenderloin recipe from my sister. I liked the bold flavour of the ginger but I didn’t have other recipes that called for it. It’s only in the past three years, as I started to truly cook from scratch that ginger has become a staple in my kitchen.

History of Ginger

Zingiber officinale Ginger is the bulbous root of the plant Zingiber officinale . Although new to me, ginger has been used in cooking for millennia. It has been used for so long, in fact, that the origins of the plant, while believed to be in Southeast Asia where it is a staple, are not truly known.

Ginger was first introduced to Europe by Romans about 2000 years ago. Its popularity grew, and in the 13th and 14th century, only pepper was more commonly used. This despite ginger’s high cost. In 16th century England, a pound of ginger was worth as much as one sheep. I love ginger, but I wouldn’t pay that much for it!

Ginger was first grown in the West in Jamaica, starting in 1585. It was introduced by Spanish explorers. Today ginger is grown in many tropical and sub-tropical locations around the world. India is currently the world’s largest producer, with about 30% of global production.

Cooking with Ginger

One of the great things about ginger is its versatility. This spice works in both savory and sweet dishes. Southeast Asian dishes typically exploit the savory side of ginger, using it in stir-fries, curries and more. It plays on the sweet side in Western cuisine like in traditional gingerbread and ginger ale. I like both.

This pasta sauce and these pork kebabs just wouldn’t be the same without the spiciness of ginger. The flavours in these orange zucchini muffins with chocolate chips perk up nicely thanks to the fresh ginger. And these orange-blueberry muffins? I was right. One tablespoon of minced fresh ginger makes them even better than my original version.

Selecting and Storing Ginger

Ginger is available in several forms: fresh, candied, ground, dried and pickled.

powdered ginger, fresh ginger, candied ginger

Different forms of ginger – left, ground ginger; back, fresh ginger; right, crystalised or candied ginger

I most often use fresh ginger. It is widely available in mainstream supermarkets. Most of the fresh ginger we use is mature ginger, which requires peeling.

When selecting fresh ginger, make sure it is firm, smooth and has no mold. Place it in a ziploc bag and store it in the vegetable crisper in your fridge. It should last a couple of months. Alternately, you can store it in the freezer for about six months.

Benefits of Ginger

Ginger doesn’t just taste good, it seems to have some helpful medicinal properties too. Ginger helps calm upset stomachs, and helps with motion sickness and nausea. So I guess Mom was right when she gave me flat ginger ale to help with an upset stomach when I was a kid. There are less sugary ways to get those benefits from ginger, but Mom used what she had on hand.

Have you discovered the bold, spicy flavour of fresh ginger?

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2 thoughts on “The Spice Route: Ginger

  1. I really love cooking with ginger. We use it a lot in African cuisine so it was an easy jump for me as I explored new dishes. I do however need to try it more in sweet things! thanks for the great info on it!!

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