Thursday, February 13, 2014

Introducing the hot, the spicy...Ginger!

It is winter in Florida and my lovely grandmother, who calls the sunshine state her home, has been struggling with the cooler than usual weather this year. She constantly complains of being cold and has in turn been racking up the heating bills to try and stay warm. So I, being the health nut that I am, suggested that she try drinking some ginger tea which is known to increase circulation and warmth within the body. Surprisingly, she listened to me, and went out and bought some! She was a little shocked by the piquancy of it, but noticed that it did help. This is what led me to today’s blog about ginger.

Ginger is an amazing root that is used in myriad ways such as for culinary, aromatic, and medicinal purposes. It is an odd looking herb, pale yellow in color with a torso like shape and lots of little nubs poking off into various directions. The part of the tropical plant, known as Zingibar Officinale, used is its starchy, pungent, aromatic rhizome. Ginger is a tropical, hot spice with flavors of citrus, and floral, woodsy undertones. In the culinary world it can be added to a dish to provide substance and thickness as well as for added aroma. I hear that back in the day the English taverns set out ginger powder on the tables along with salt and pepper for people to sprinkle on their drinks, thus forming ginger beer and ginger ale. Today ginger is still used to make ginger ales and is even added to Yemen coffee.

Ginger can be used in its dried or fresh state, and is available as the whole fresh root, dried root, powdered, preserved, crystallized (excellent in gingersnaps), and pickled. India, China and Jamaica are major producers of dried ginger, while the beautiful US state of Hawaii produces much of the fresh ginger. Some say that Indian ginger has strong aromas of citrus, Chinese ginger is most pungent, and Jamaican ginger is the finest with a delicate and sweet presence. I am not a connoisseur of ginger though so what ever looks the best at the market is what I purchase, but I think I may have to do a little taste test to see if I would concur. Fresh ginger root can be found in the produce section and should be stored in the fridge unpeeled. It should look firm, smooth, and healthy, with no spots or mildew. The skin may be removed with a paring knife and then the root sliced, diced or julienned. Add it to your cooking (beans, soups, stir fry), in the juicer (great with carrot and apple) or in tea. **Fresh Ginger Tea – put a couple of thick slices of fresh ginger root in a cup of hot tea and steep.** Dried or crystallized ginger is a wonderful addition to baked goods, and you can even buy ginger candies to chew on which also may help with nausea.

Medicinally, ginger is a wonderful healing spice and is extremely prevalent in Chinese medicine. Ginger tea, which is what I explained to my grandmother, is a diaphoretic (fancy term for “makes you sweat”). It warms you up and promotes perspiration which is good to alleviate colds, for cold weather, and to detoxify your body. Overall, ginger promotes warmth and circulation in the body, increases metabolic rate, helps the body detoxify from acidic foods, cleanses and rebuilds the cardiovascular system, alleviates symptoms of gastrointestinal stress, prevents motion sickness and nausea associated with pregnancy, aids in digestion, and reduces flatulence (hallelujah!). It is an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antispasmodic, and the list goes on. Basically, it’s really darn good for you…who knew this little hot number had all that and more! Ginger is such a versatile spice that you may want to get to know well and have fun experimenting with in your cooking and baking. It will add to your culinary repertoire as well as your health, and at the least may keep You hot and spicy!

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