By Chris Ellis, Staff Nutritionist
Hooray for local ginger!!! This unique gnarled tuber is now available locally! It is harvested locally from late August into the fall so keep your eyes out for it in the produce section. Ginger is known for its soothing aroma and pungent and robust flavor. There is nothing like it and we are fortunate now to have it in our New England backyard instead of from tropical places faraway from here. Fresh ginger surpasses the dried form by leaps and bounds!!
Ginger is indigenous to many parts of Southeast Asia such as India and China. From there it made its way to the Caribbean and Africa. It then came to Europe as a result of the well known spice trade. Along with turmeric, cardamom, and galangal, ginger is a member of the Zingiberaceae family. The mature root has a thick or thin brown skin depending on the type and its age and it can have a yellow, white, or reddish flesh.
No one could ever expect from the appearance of this small underground stem, referred to as the rhizome, that it had so much to offer for both culinary and medicinal use. The medicinal values of ginger root are attributed mainly to the plant compound, gingerol, but it contains other potent plant chemicals too. Research has shown that regular consumption of ginger root alleviates symptoms of stomach and intestinal distress. I recall often being served ginger ale as a child for stomach distress and now I drink tea made with fresh ginger root when I am experiencing any stomach discomfort and it definitely helps. Consumption of ginger has been shown to significantly reduce symptoms of nausea and vomiting during the early months of pregnancy. It also has been shown to reduce inflammation so those with conditions such as arthritis can benefit from its powerful anti-inflammatory effects. There is strong evidence to support its use in cancer prevention too since it has been shown to suppress cancer cell growth. The immune and cardiovascular systems have also been reported to benefit from its use. No matter what ails you, it seems you can’t go wrong by adding ginger to your diet and/or consuming a cup of ginger tea on a regular basis.
Ginger can be used in its dry or fresh form but to reap the most health benefits it is best to use it fresh. Young ginger root is what is found in the New England area since mature ginger requires a longer growing season. The Northeast is far from a tropical climate! Young ginger has no fibrous skin and is more perishable so it has to be used within a couple weeks. Mature ginger from a tropical climate takes more work since it has to be peeled and often has a woody texture. Young ginger must be kept refrigerated and should be stored in a glass container or wax paper bag if not used right after purchase. No need to worry, though, it freezes well! It can be frozen for up to 6 months after purchase and then can be immediately used in cooking, tea, etc. Rinse the ginger root lightly, removing any dirt, and dry it off before freezing it. Ginger does not need to be thawed once frozen. Just grate the amount needed and put the remaining root back in a storage container into the freezer. If you think ahead you can freeze enough for a good part of the winter!
Ginger is one of my most favorite additions to give foods extra spice and punch—there’s nothing like it!! The ways to use ginger are endless but some of the most common are in tea, baked goods, stir-fries, marinades for any kind of protein source, salad dressings, salads, and last but not least, smoothies. I always use plenty of pickled ginger on nori rolls so now I am excited to make my own using local ginger root. The later you use it in cooking the stronger flavor it has. Another thing I love adding grated or sliced fresh ginger to is homemade baked beans since it was also one of my mom’s favorite ingredients.