Ginger adds interest and healthful element to cuisine

Today, people experience the best of both worlds with the versatile spice ginger, using it in a vari

Before it was recognized for its culinary uses, ginger was best known for its therapeutic properties. More than 5,000 years ago, the Chinese and Indians used ginger, which originated in Southeast Asia, as a remedy for just about all ailments. Today, people experience the best of both worlds with this spice, using it in a variety of forms to liven up their cuisine, as well as to take advantage of its health-related benefits.

Ginger was exported from India to ancient Rome, where people used it extensively until the fall of the Roman Empire. The Arabs then took control of the spice trade and continued to export the spice to Europe, where it was popular in medieval times for making sweets. The Arabs also took this rhizome to Africa with them when they traveled there, further spreading its cultivation. The Caribbean, with its tropical climate, later became a popular place to grow ginger beginning in the 15th century. Gradually, ginger gained in popularity as a culinary herb, and it continues to be a staple in today’s modern pantries.

Several different forms

One remarkable thing about ginger is its versatility, said Betty Pillsbury of Green Spiral Herbs in Middleburgh. Unlike most herbs, ginger can be used equally as well in both savory and sweet dishes.

Ginger also comes in several different forms. Ginger is sold raw in the forms of a “hand” of ginger, with a tan skin and pale yellow flesh. “Fingers” extend out from the hand. Dried and ground, fresh ginger becomes powdered ginger. If you’re substituting fresh ginger for powdered in a recipe, you would use six parts of fresh ginger for one part of ground ginger. When ginger has been cooked in sugar syrup, air-dried and rolled in sugar, it becomes crystallized ginger.

If you’re using it fresh, whether you should peel it depends on if the root is young or old. “If you have a nice young root with a very tender skin, peeling isn’t necessary, especially if you’re going to mince it,” Pillsbury said. An older root will have thicker, coarser skin that you will want to peel off before using.

Fresh ginger is great for Asian dishes such as stir-fry. Pillsbury suggests using a couple of cloves of minced garlic and a tablespoon of ginger mixed together, along with some peanut oil and diced chicken for a delicious, quick and easy meal.

Massachusetts-based author Nina Simonds, owner of the food and health Web site, keeps minced ginger on hand in her refrigerator to liven up soups, stews and stir-fries. If the ginger darkens when it’s being stored, she simply rinses it off and dries it before adding it to the dish she’s cooking.

Pillsbury points out that grated ginger will be hotter and spicier than sliced ginger. So you can control the heat in the dish by the way you prepare the fresh ginger.

Growing your own

The best way to store a fresh hand of ginger, Simonds said, is to put it in a pot of sand or soil. “It will keep indefinitely,” she said. If you put it in soil, it will start to grow. Pillsbury, who has hundreds of herbs, vegetables and flowers at her home, grows ginger, but she said it’s more for curiosity’s sake, as she uses far more ginger than she could grow herself.

For those who want to try it at home, Pillsbury suggests buying a hand of organic ginger (she recommends organic because oftentimes ginger in the supermarket has been sprayed with a sprout inhibitor) and planting about two-thirds of the hand underneath the soil. Add water, and keep it in a semi-shady location. “Even though ginger is tropical, it doesn’t grow out in the full sun,” she said. An east window, rather than a south window, is preferable.

While you can set the pot out on the porch in the summer, the plant is too tender to weather the winter. So it needs to come back inside when the temperature drops.

Powdered ginger is used largely for baking sweet things (think gingerbread and gingersnaps). Crystallized ginger is a nice sweet accent. Pillsbury likes to make a crystallized ginger butter, and Simonds likes to make her fruit salads special by sprinkling some crystallized ginger on top.

Helps you feel better

Besides its culinary uses, ginger has some health benefits. It’s widely known as a digestive aid and as an agent to relieve nausea.

Remember how mom used to make you sip ginger ale when you had an upset stomach? Pillsbury said that you can make your own ginger ale by making a ginger syrup and adding club soda or seltzer water to it.

Simonds said that ginger also has anti-bacterial properties. When she is on a book tour and using her voice a great deal, she carries with her some crystallized ginger to suck on, or when she can find it, an uncrystallized type that doesn’t have the outside sugar coating. “It strengthens my voice,” she said.

Pillsbury also points out that ginger is an anti-inflammatory. Whether one is having it in the form of a tea or adding it to a stir-fry, a person benefits from these properties either way.

For a video demonstration on using fresh and crystallized ginger as well as ginger recipes and tips, visit Simonds’ Qeb site at

The following recipes are by Betty Pillsbury of Green Spiral Herbs,

Chicken Breasts with Ginger Spice

2 chicken breasts with skin


For ginger spice:

1 tablespoon powdered ginger

1 tablespoon powdered cinnamon

1⁄2 teaspoon powdered cloves

Place chicken breasts in baking dish. Brush honey on skin side of chicken. Combine ingredients for ginger spice. Sprinkle ginger spice over honey. Roast at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until chicken is done.

Pickled Pears with Ginger

1 cup cider vinegar

2 cups sugar

3 lemon slices

Fresh ginger root, about 3 inches long

1 cinnamon stick

1 teaspoon whole cloves

2 pounds Seckel pears

In a large saucepan, combine vinegar, sugar, lemon, ginger, cinnamon and cloves. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes.

Wash and peel pears, leaving stem intact. Add pears to the spice mixture and bring back to the boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook another 15 minutes.

Divide pears into two hot, sterilized pint jars. Divide syrup into jars, leaving 1⁄2-inch head space. Wipe rims of jars with clean paper towel.

Place lids and bands on jars. Process in hot water bath for 20 minutes.

Quick Gingered Butter

1 stick butter, softened

1 tablespoon finely minced crystallized ginger

Mix softened butter and ginger. Use as a spread on biscuits or bagels. Refrigerate leftovers.

Ginger Glazed Cranberries

2 cups fresh cranberries

3⁄4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

Zest of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon lemon juice

In saucepan, combine all ingredients. Cover and cook over low heat about 20 minutes, stirring frequently. This will take on the consistency of a syrupy paste. Remove from heat and cool. Keep refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Mix with cream cheese for a delicious spread. Or, enjoy as a side with turkey or roast pork.

Sore Throat Tea

1 tablespoon sage

1 tablespoon fresh ginger root

Lemon slice

Honey to taste

Pour 1 cup of boiling water over sage and ginger.

Cover and let steep for at least 5 minutes. Strain.

Add lemon slice and honey to taste.

The ingredients soothe a sore throat with their antimicrobial, astringent and anti-inflammatory properties.

Categories: Life and Arts

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