Â The Ginger Root (Zingiber officionale) is actually a rhizome (underground stem or corm)Â that has been in use both as a culinary spice and a medicinal herb for more than five thousand years in China, India and the Middle East.Â Â It is one of just a handful of plants that are considered to be both a spice (ground dried ginger) and an herb (fresh ginger root).
It is widely used in every single Far East country and in many Caribbean islands.Â Â
The word ginger is derived from the Sanskrit sringavera, which translates as "antlers" in reference to its intricately twisted shapes.
One of my botanical sources says that ginger was introduced and naturalized in the Americas by Spaniards, after the 'discovery of the "New World"'....
It had been transplanted from the East Indies into Spain and then exported to the West Indies wherever Spaniards settled...but another source mentions that the Chinese immigration to work the railroads was the actual beginning of the popularity of ginger in the Americas.
According to an article in an old Better Homes and Gardens issue, ginger "contains formidable cancer-fighting antioxidants, reduces factors that cause blood clots and arterial plaque to form, and shows promise as a reducer of cholesterol.Â It appears to enhance insulin, which could lead to its eventual use in diets for persons with non-insulin dependent diabetes".
Fresh ginger in today's world markets comes from Brazil, Costa Rica, Fiji and of course, Hawai'i, Indonesia and the Philippines.Â There are many small ginger farms located in theÂ area of our island where I live.Â Â It is fun to see small farm trucks loaded with plastic laundry baskets or boxes filled to the gills with ginger freshly harvested from the fields being taken to Hilo in preparation for exporting.Â Â Â
I had hoped to stop at one of the nearby ginger fields to take photos of how ginger grows, but we have had so much rain lately that the fields were too muddy and I was afraid to get the carÂ stuck in the mud.
We all know ginger ale is great at controlling nausea and settling your stomach when queasy, and hot ginger tea relieves coughs and colds, weak appetites and poor circulation.
For more information on the beneficial uses of ginger and other Eastern medicinal herbs and foods read "A Spoonful of Ginger" by Nina Simmons (Knopf). You will be amazed at how your own garden or nearest farmer's market can be your source of healing remedies!
Another wonderful source for ginger information is the book Ginger East to West: The Classic Collection of Recipes, Techniques, and Lore by Bruce Cost and Amy Pertschuk
The following recipe for making ginger syrup was shared with me by a friend who lives nearby.Â It can be used to add just that extra touch to icedÂ or hot tea, on ice cream, over pancakes, waffles and French Toast.Â Let's see how many more ideas you can come up for using delicious ginger syrup!
7 quarts water
2Â pounds ginger, washed, not peeled, cut into 2" chunks
6 cups sugar
Boil ginger in water for 1 1/2 hours.Â Strain out ginger which can be used for making ginger tea.Â Add sugar to the liquid.Â Boil 20-30 minutes until it's the thickness you want, thick and runny is my choice.
Bottle and refrigerate.
Drink a sake cup full when you have a tickly throat or a stuffed up nose.
Excellent on vanilla ice cream or cream puffs too...
SOURCE: Carol Peters - Akalina Farms - Hamakua Coast, Big Island of Hawaii
HINTS FOR STORING GINGER
There are several ways to store ginger when you have an over abundance...these two are my favorite:
If I have lots of ginger on hand and don't plan to use all of it soon, I like to slice it in several large pieces and store in a jar filled with dry Sherry wine, not the so-called Cooking Sherry. Â It can last a long time in the refrigerator this way.Â Â This will prevent the ginger from spoiling faster and the Sherry will absorb the ginger taste and can be used to flavor stir-fry vegetables and other dishes.
Many recipes call for equal portions of minced ginger and garlic.Â I like toÂ mince and/or grateÂ larger quantities than needed for a recipe, mix the two and store in a tightly sealed glass jar in the refrigerator and just use as needed.Â This saves a lot of time when you are preparing a recipe that calls for just a little bit of both.
GINGER TRIVIA -Â SOURCES: Here and there!
-Ginger root= is the common name for the knobby rhizomes of the Alpinia galanga plant. This is the most widely used ginger.
1 tablespoon fresh ginger=1/4 teaspoon ground
1/4 cup sliced =1 ounce
-Ground ginger is not a good subtitute for fresh; but dried, whole ginger will work in a pinch, as well as the minced or pureed ginger sold in jars.
-Chinese ginger= is the common name for the Kaempferia galanga, or fingerroot. This type is more popular in Thailand. Resembles fingers jutting out from a hand.
-Pickled Sushi ginger = the ginger used to garnish sushi plates is harvested no older than 3 months after planting, where normally ginger would be harvested at 8 or 9 months.Â the skin is pink and almost translucent when it is young.
-When preparing a Thai dish if the recipe calls for GALANGA, you can substitute with common ginger.
-Green ginger= or baby ginger, is just the pink-tipped, shiny pieces of very young ginger. Very mild and usually don't need to be peeled. Easy to find in Asian markets.
-Turmeric= or Indian ginger, has a very pungent flavor, but it's more widely known for it's brilliant yellow color. You can find the fresh roots in Asian and Indian markets, but dried turmeric is far more commonly used. It can stain your hands and clothing, so use carefully!
1 piece fresh tumeric=1 teaspoon powdered.
Interesting side note:
In Hawaii the tumeric plant is called Olena.Â Â The plants bloomÂ around April.Â Some varietiesÂ have white,Â icy pink or icy blue blooms.Â The bloom spike comes up before the foliage.Â It is a beautiful plant!
Sonia Martinez, Gather Food Correspondent
Sonia's column, 'Tropical Taste' is a regular twice-monthly feature of Gather Essentials: Food.
Sonia is a cookbook author and freelance food writer for several publications in Hawaii, and is also a Hawaii Island Journal restaurant reviewer in partnership with her son Anthony Mathis. Â She lives in a beautiful rural rainforest area on the Big Island of Hawaii.
You can keep up with Sonia's adventures and ongoing love affair with Hawaii by joining her network, or visiting her food & garden blog at Sonia Tastes Hawaii.