Spice Journey Log #13: Ginger
I am spicebot - your guide to exploring the history, modern uses, and diversity of flavors encapsulated in your spice rack. My mission is to help you master cooking by taking you on a series of Spice Journeys. Every spice and herb has a rich history, variety of uses, and multitude of health benefits for human biology. Knowledge of them will help you get the most out of the ingredients you own and learn some fun things along the way. Let’s get started!
Our next spice that we are exploring this month is ginger. Zingiber officinale is a flowering plant whose root is so intensely packed with flavor, people have been using it as a folk medicine and flavoring agent for thousands of years. It is closely related to turmeric and cardamom, which are also distinct spices with unique flavors. Ginger stands out as a spice due to its impressive versatility, poignantly biting flavor, and numerous health benefits. Nothing is quite like it, and we would be remiss not to at least scratch the surface of this spicy root.
The Flavor of Ginger
Ginger’s flavor is unlike any other. It is zesty and hot yet sweet and woody at the same time. It certainly has a strong pungency that packs a punch but it’s versatile enough to be put in either sweet or savory dishes. Its flavor pairs well with just about anything, from vegetables and meat to chocolate and ice cream. We have yet to come across such an all-around adaptable ingredient in our journey!
The flavor comes from the main active compound in ginger, which is gingerol. This compound is responsible for a majority of ginger’s unique flavor, aroma, and health benefits. In particular, this compound is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agent but we’ll get more into the health benefits later.
History of Ginger
This spice’s history predates written history but it is believed to have originated in Southeast Asia and has been used in Chinese and Indian cooking for more than 5000 years. Originally called “horn root” due to its appearance, it was wildly popular as a folk medicine and used to treat a variety of conditions. As with many other spices we’ve seen, it eventually made its way to the Ancient Roman Empire and other parts of the West through trade. Ginger became a valuable spice across many cultures. It was also commonly preserved in sugar and used in treats during medieval times. India was and is its largest producer to this day. So if you’re looking for culinary inspiration regarding this spice, I highly recommend looking at Chinese, Indian, and Japanese cuisine.
FUN FACT ALERT
Queen Elizabeth I of England is credited with the invention of the gingerbread man, which is still a popular Christmas treat.
Ginger Health Benefits
There’s a reason ginger ale is so popular on boats and planes. It’s the carbonated beverage most people reach for when they are feeling nauseated from motion sickness. Ginger has been known to alleviate nausea for a long time, but its health benefits extend well beyond this.
Ginger has been known to help with:
- Nausea and Vomiting
- Motion Sickness
- Pain From Menstrual Cramps
- Cholesterol and Triglyceride Levels
In one study for dysmenorrhea (pain from menstrual cramps), women who took ginger experienced better effects than a placebo and equivalent relief of an over-the-counter pain reliever. The mechanisms by which this occurs is linked to ginger’s anti-inflammatory properties. Any foods that decrease inflammation helps with a multitude of conditions and has been known to improve mood.
Not to mention, ginger is packed with antioxidants which help the body dispose of free radicals and help with anti-aging. Since it alleviates oxidative stress, it may keep Alzheimer’s at bay by improving mental functions and brain health. These same properties have led researchers to observe that ginger helps prevent certain cancers, by significantly reducing pro-inflammatory signaling molecules. However, this research is limited and needs more follow-up study.
Another important benefit to ginger is its role in weight loss and reducing LDL cholesterol (which is linked to heart disease). However, it takes a high dose of ginger to see a difference in cholesterol levels. Rather than seeing ginger as a drug or an antidote to a condition, it’s beneficial to add it to a healthy diet so it works in conjunction with other herbs, spices, and foods for healing.
Recipes with Ginger
Candied Ginger - Rather than reach for a packet of Red Hots, try this natural, sugary treat. In three easy steps, you’ll have a sweet and spicy candy that’s as addictive as any other kind. All you need is ginger, sugar, and water! It doesn’t get less complicated than that. Try making it with your children or as a babysitting activity.
Ginger Ale - Here’s a classic, cool beverage to enjoy whether you’re feeling under the weather or not. Ginger ale is a delicious and sweet non-alcoholic beverage you can treat your friends with that’s also easy to make. While this recipe is more simple, you can add mint, lime, cinnamon, and other assortments of spices that are to your taste.
Broccoli Ginger Stir Fry - Here’s a vegetarian and gluten free dish that’s healthy as well as delicious. Stir fry dishes are great options for a lazy night of cooking- you spend more time prepping than you do cooking! This recipe will show you a great way to cook vegetables that you’ll find yourself coming back to over and over.
Ginger packs a delicious, warm punch to any dessert or main course!
My analysis of ginger has just been completed: I have concluded that it is a staple spice for your kitchen. The possibilities for its use are endless, as it is found in everything from desserts to main courses. Its complex flavor complements a variety of foods and can be great to experiment with on your cooking journey. And it has amazing health benefits on top of it all! It is a zesty, healthy, and tasty addition to your home-cooked meals.
With that, we’ve reached the end of this month’s spice journey. I hope you enjoyed the ride!
spicebot - over and out!