Many people hear the word ginger and automatically think of gingerbread, ginger-ale, or gingersnaps. But fresh ginger can add amazing flavor to stir-fry’s, pasta, salads, curries, soups and much more.
Ginger dates back to the 8th and 12th centuries BCE in the Sichuan region. Ginger was probably introduced to Japan in the 3rd century BCE. It not only was used for culinary purposes but was also revered for its medicinal qualities. It was purported to cure colds, liver ailments, nausea, anemia, rheumatism, jaundice, tentanus, leprosy, aid in digestions, restore appetite, regulate menstruation and even stimulate sexual desire. In fact the ginger root was so important to the Chinese and Japanese that it in Chinese and Japanese cooking it is said to be a "yang" ingredient — necessary to achieve harmonic cuisine.
The popularity of ginger carried through to the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. It is not a wonder that you will find this amazing root in so many different types of cuisine. But why do some ethnic cuisines use fresh ginger and others dried? Because dried ginger was the only way they could transport it without spoilage. And over the years in some areas, even when fresh was available these cuisines opted for the dried ginger as a matter of preference.
Ginger is now available in six forms:
Fresh Ginger: Roots are available in two forms — young and mature. Young roots are pale and have a thin skin that does not need to be peeled. The taste is very mild in flavor. You can grate, chop or julienne young ginger roots. Mature ginger roots have a tough skin that needs to be peeled away to get to the flesh. Usually mature ginger roots are grated, chopped or ground. Much like garlic, fresh ginger, mellows with cooking, and turns bitter if you burn it.
Ground (Powdered) Ginger: Tastes very different than fresh. Ground ginger is readily available in most supermarkets in the spice aisle. Usually used primarily in sweets like gingerbread, ginger snaps, etc or in curry.
Dried Ginger: This form is most commonly found in whole fingers or also in slices. It is usually hydrated before using.
Pickled Ginger: This form is pickled in sweet vinegar and is usually bright pink or red. Most people have seen this form accompany a plate of sushi. It is also eaten to freshen the breath. It is available in Asian markets. Must be refrigerated.
Preserved Ginger: Preserved in a sugar-salt mixture — this form is generally used as a confection or added to desserts.
Crystallized Ginger: Also referred to as candied ginger, this form has been cooked in a sugar syrup until tender and then coated with granulated sugar. It is most commonly used in desserts.
The best way to store fresh ginger root is to freeze it. It will keep, frozen, almost indefinitely. Remove it from the freezer whenever you need it, use what you need and stick the remainder back in the freezer.
This month with our focus on Thai cuisine we have many recipes that utilize fresh ginger. We invite you to try these recipes… they are all delicious and most are quick and easy to prepare.
If you are a big fan of ginger, or after reading this article decide you can’t get enough ginger, you might want to consider growing it. Here are some great step-by-step directions on how to grow ginger in a pot.
How to grow ginger in a container:
Plan to plant the ginger in the spring — where you can supply warm enough temperatures (whether
indoors or out). The tubers will sprout only when temperatures reach 75-85 degrees F.
- Buy fresh ginger root(s) at the supermarket or in an Asian market. Look for fat tubers with lots of buds.
- Use a container that is about 14 inches wide and about 1 foot deep. Make sure that your pot has good drainage. This size of a container should hold about 3 average-sized tubers.
- Fill the container with potting soil enriched with compost.
- Soak the tubers in warm water overnight. Set them in the pot just below the surface, spacing them evenly, with the buds facing up.
- Set the container in a light shade, indoors or out (depending on the temperature — warmer is better).
- Water lightly at first, then more heavily when growth starts. Keep the plants dry in the winter because they are dormant through the winter months.
- Expect the plants to reach maturity, and a height of 2-4 feet, in 10 months to a year.
- Dig up new, young sprouts that appear in front of the main plants, use what you need. Freeze or replant the rest.
- Clip young, tender stems anytime.