Ginger (botanical name: Zingiber officinale)
Let’s get to the root of this blessed herb, which is one of the oldest spices in the book. Ginger is suggested to have originated in eastern Asia, perhaps China or India and was later transplanted and cultivated in many parts of the world including, Sri Lanka, Africa and Jamaica. In fact, it’s not actually the root that we use for culinary purposes, though commonly said as ginger root. Ginger used for cooking or baking is the rhizome (underground stem) of the Zingiber officinale. Its medicinal value and use in Ayurveda in Sri Lanka has been documented by early Sanskrit writers.
One thing for certain is ginger is full of goodness. In Ayurvedic medicine, ginger is used as an ingredient for stomach upset, indigestion, nausea, and fever. Its use for treating nausea has been strongly confirmed by science. Ginger is also commonly and very effectively used to ease colds and sore throat. The curative properties of ginger are easy to swallow for its sweet-spicy flavour.
Its pleasing essence allows for a wide range of culinary uses. Growing up, the addition of ginger was included in most all the curries my mother made at home and used as an essential component of an aromatic base that give Sri Lankan dishes their signature taste. Cuisines the world over use ginger in a variety of ways, and its popularity in the preparation of desserts, breads and cookies is probably the most known. Growing up, my family’s pantry was never lacking ginger snaps—a spicy and sugary treat. A cup of ginger tea with a few slices of fresh ginger is a perfect brew for soothing sore throats and settling the stomach, and ginger beer is a favoured sip among Sri Lankans.
What to know: It is found as fresh and whole in the produce section of supermarkets, or as dry ground ginger powder in the baking aisle. The fresh ginger we find stacked in piles at the market are called “hands” because of their shape, and the finger-like protrusions extending from the hand are called “fingers.” The flavour of the flesh may vary but generally, ginger has spicy bite with a hot-sweet taste and bright lemony notes. It is a warming ingredient. When buying ginger from the market, look for plump hands with fresh bright tan coloured skin. Their flesh should be juicy and light yellow. When you break a finger, it should come off easily.
How you can use it: From stir-fry and sautés, to soups and salad dressings, to biscuits and breads, there are innumerable ways to incorporate ginger into a recipe. When using fresh ginger, a small amount goes a long way. Try adding it to a curry or stir-fry by taking finely minced it or finely grated ginger and adding it to a marinade for proteins or adding it directly to hot oil with garlic and other aromatics just before sautéing the other ingredients.
Wellness benefits: Indigestion; nausea, motion sickness, morning sickness; colds, sore throat, fever; inflammation; antiseptic properties.
How to keep it fresh for longer: Fresh ginger may be kept in an open container in a dark cool place as you would garlic or onions. Or hands may be wrapped in a light cloth and kept in the fridge. Some prefer to peel, chop, and freeze ginger pieces in a freeze proof bag for up to a month. Ginger powder should be stored in an airtight container in a cool dark, dry, cupboard. Stored in this way, it may be kept for a year.
What is your favourite way to use ginger?