Ginger root may have a modest, woody appearance, but don’t let that fool you. This gnarled rhizome (underground stem) from the ginger plant (Zingiber officianale) offers culinary and medicinal uses that span the continents, and there is nothing plain about its flavor. A cousin to cardamom and turmeric, ginger is a tasty spice that packs a powerful, heat-filled punch. In Asian and Indian cuisine, it is an important ingredient in warming dishes like curries, chutneys, soups, and sauces. Western diets tend to embrace ginger’s sweeter side, using it in teas, ginger snaps, and gingerbread. Thirsty? Many versions of ginger ale and ginger beer are available around the world to try. As an ingredient, ginger is omnipresent.
Ginger also has many curative applications. It packs an intensely heated zing that can clear out nasal passages, but also, paradoxically, works to cool a fever. Known for removing unwanted gas, ginger also acts as an anti-inflammatory and a calmer of the queasy stomach. Clearly it is a powerful plant—a rhizome to be reckoned with!
Ginger is sold as a solid, unprocessed rhizome, sliced and pickled, crystallized, candied, juiced, or in powdered form. As rhizome, it has a pale, lumpy, somewhat flat appearance with a branching horn shape. It is often found in the produce section of the grocery store.
When sliced and pickled, it is pinkish and delicate, almost like lox, and it is found in the international section of traditional grocery stores or Asian grocery stores.
Candied versions often are presented as sugared, dried, light yellow lumps or squares and can be found in candy stores or in the candy section of a traditional or specialty grocery store.
Dried ginger is a light brown powder shelved among the herbs and spices in a traditional grocery store.
Raw, grated ginger root has an intense, hot, spicy, and pungent flavor. Sliced and pickled ginger has a softer flavor than that of raw ginger; the heat and spice are milder. Candied, it is still hot, but the sweetness of the sugar tends to mellow the bite. Dried ginger has a spicier, more full-bodied taste as compared to raw.
Ginger root can be found in most food markets. It can also be found in Asian and Indian markets. Dried ginger is a common spice available in most grocery stores. Candied, crystallized, pickled, and juiced ginger is often considered a specialty product and can be found in natural food stores or online.
Ginger is often imported and available year round.
Fresh ginger rhizomes are best if you’re seeking to add texture to a dish, and may be preferable for some, but not all, medicinal purposes. Select ginger roots that are firm, free of mold, and unpeeled. You can usually break off a section of a larger rhizome, as it is normally sold by the pound.
When deciding whether to purchase organic or non-organic produce, it’s helpful to know which fruits and vegetables are most affected by pesticides. Pesticides are toxins used to kill insects, invasive plants, and fungi during the growth of produce, and are potentially dangerous to people. National and international agencies agree that prolonged exposure to specific pesticides through food consumption is a potential health risk. Additionally, some studies indicate that organic fruits and vegetables have a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals than conventionally raised produce.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an environmental health advocacy and research organization in the United States. From cosmetics to produce, water to cleaning products, EWG provides insight regarding the impact of pesticides, manufacturing practices, and product ingredients on our health and environment. EWG produces a consumer guide ranking 48 fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue. The higher the rank, the lower the residue. In this ranking, the 12 most affected fruits and vegetables belong to the “Dirty Dozen” and the 15 least affected are part of the “Clean Fifteen” . These lists help identify the produce that is most—and least—dramatically affected by pesticides.
Currently, ginger does not appear on any EWG list; however, root vegetables are more likely to absorb excess fertilizers and pesticides during their time in the soil. According to multiple studies that evaluate pesticide residues on spices, ginger is susceptible to a multitude of toxic residues; therefore, it is recommended to purchase USDA Organic when possible.
Fresh, unpeeled ginger can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. Peeled ginger can be stored in the freezer for up to six months. Powdered ginger should be stored in a dark, cool place and will last about a year if kept in the refrigerator. Ginger juice should be stored in the refrigerator. Dried and candied ginger can be stored in a dry, cool place.
When using fresh ginger rhizome, first peel off the skin and then grate, slice, or julienne the interior flesh. When cooking with ginger, consider the timing. The sooner you add it to the cooking food, the more subtle the end flavor, as the flavor mellows with cooking.
Since ginger is so strong, the serving size is small, and so the amounts of any micronutrient, however significant proportionally, are also small. Here are some of the richest nutrients available in ginger.
Alongside sodium and chloride, potassium is an electrolyte essential for conducting electrical reactions in the body. Potassium aids proper muscle function, digestive health, and skeletal contractions.
Magnesium is responsible for promoting cardiovascular health, muscle contraction and relaxation, energy production, and proper bone formation. This essential nutrient may also be helpful in regulating healthy blood-sugar levels, decreasing the likelihood of type 2 diabetes.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
Amino acids and lipids are the main nutrients metabolized by vitamin B6, helping to promote proper energy levels throughout the body. It is also an important aspect of the formation of hemoglobin and neurotransmitters, protecting both the cardiovascular system and brain.
Necessary for the processes of methylation, the construction of cell membranes, and an important component in one type of critical neurotransmitter in the human body, choline is a lesser-known but essential nutrient widely available through food.
Ginger brings with it a host of medical claims, some substantiated, others not. Among the purported benefits are its ability to combat gas, nausea, and seasickness, and its use as a digestive aid and as a stimulant of bile and saliva.
Due to the presence of the volatile oil gingerol, ginger is said to work as a mild analgesic and antiseptic, and contains fever-reducing properties. Ginger is said to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, which can help reduce pain in people with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.
Lastly, according to Ayurvedic wisdom, ginger is considered an aphrodisiac.
- The unrelated wild ginger of North America (Asarum canadense) has similar spicy properties, but it contains aristilochic acid, a harmful compound (carcinogenic, mutagenic, and nephrotoxic) banned by the FDA.
- Some doctors warn against eating ginger for patients who are at risk of developing gallstones, because ginger’s bile-stimulating effect could potentially cause stones to move into the bile duct.
- The Sanskrit word for ginger, śr̄ngaveram, roughly translates into “horn” or “body,” which is thought to be a reference to the rhizome’s shape.