Even if ginger had no medicinal qualities, its piquant flavor would be reason enough for its wide appeal. Imagine life without gingersnaps, ginger ale, gingerbread, ginger beef, ginger tea: From East to West, the world would be at a tragic culinary loss.
But for all its delicious applications, ginger really shines in the health arena. Doctors in China have been using it for thousands of years to treat patients with numerous conditions, including nausea, motion sickness, colds, joint pain, and circulation problems.
Both Indian Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) value ginger as a warming and stimulating herb for the internal organs, one that raises the body's temperature to help fight infection. Folk medicine has long prescribed ginger to promote circulation and act as a stimulant.
Western scientific research has substantiated many of these long-held claims. Gingerols, which give the spice its distinctive flavor, are the active medicinal components in ginger. Gingerols contain potent anti-inflammatory compounds, which some studies have shown to relieve the pain of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. An animal study at the University of Minnesota suggests that gingerols may even inhibit the growth of colorectal cancer cells.
For many years, Westerners considered fresh gingerroot an exotic ingredient found only in Chinatown or Asian grocery stores. These days it's a supermarket staple, and getting plenty of fresh ginger into your diet is simple. When shopping, be aware of the two forms of gingerroot: young ("baby," or "spring") ginger and mature ginger. The former is more rare; it has a creamy color, pink-tipped shoots, a mild flavor, and thin skin that doesn't need to be peeled. Mature ginger is what you're most likely to find in the grocery store. It tends to be more fibrous, more fragrant, and more strongly flavored than young ginger, and it usually requires peeling.
We've created recipes that will put more ginger into your diet and your festivities, including a savory rice dish you can serve as a side, and a sauce to accompany meats or pasta. As for gingerbread, ours uses fresh gingerroot, which provides a whole other depth of flavor. Let this recipe start another tradition, one that's right in line with ginger's spicy, healthful past.
Buying and Storing Ginger
When buying gingerroot, choose plump, firm, and not overly fibrous pieces. Avoid ginger that has wrinkles or feels light -- signs of overdrying. If you're not planning to use the ginger right away, first wrap it in a paper towel, then a brown paper bag. Stored in your vegetable crisper in the refrigerator, it will last up to four weeks, as long as the paper towel stays dry and can absorb moisture from the ginger. Gingerroot should be peeled just before cooking; try scraping the root with the edge of a teaspoon, which gets into crevices safely and easily.