Have you ever cleaned out your crisper drawer, only to find a shriveled knob of ginger? Me too. But ginger deserves just as much love and attention as other winter spices, like nutmeg and cardamom. It’s a kitchen staple. Best of all, it’s prized for its health benefits. From supporting gut health to reducing inflammation, ginger is more than just an ingredient in your favorite stir-fry. It’s medicinal. Ginger is found in both traditional and alternative medicine as an everyday healer. You probably know it as a home remedy for the common cold, sore throat, or first-trimester nausea. Below, learn about the health benefits of ginger and delicious ginger recipes.
What is Ginger?
Before it makes its way to your local grocery store, ginger is a plant with leafy stems and flowers. Although its origins are a bit murky, ginger is believed to come from southeastern Asia. For thousands of years, humans have used ginger for its flavor, fragrance, and medicinal properties. People all over the world swear by its healing powers. In terms of consumption, ginger can be eaten whole, ground, cooked, or raw. On a global scale, it is one of the most commonly consumed dietary condiments.
Ginger spice comes from the roots of the plant, and it is grown all over the world. If you want to grow it in your backyard, find a location that’s in full-to-partial shade with rich, well-draining soil. Ginger thrives in hot and humid conditions with dappled sunlight. It grows best in parts of Asia, Australia, and Fiji. Otherwise, most grocery stores sell ginger tea, ground ginger, fresh ginger root, and ginger paste.
What to make with ginger
Warm and aromatic, ginger root is slightly peppery and sweet. It’s versatile too. From immune-boosting teas to spicy noodles, it’s the ingredient you always want on hand. Much like garlic, ginger mellows in flavor as it cooks, providing a warm bite and subtle sweetness. Across a variety of cuisines, ginger is featured in both sweet and savory dishes. From vegetables to cookies, fresh (or ground) ginger is the pièce de résistance.
Although ginger root looks intimidating, its preparation is easy. A quick peel does the trick. Once peeled and chopped, ginger can easily be thrown into various marinades, sauces, soups, broths, and glazes. You can also grate your ginger. No need to toss or compost the papery skin, either. Ginger’s outer layer is richly flavorful. With a bit of creativity, the peel creates a potent broth, deeply nourishing tea. It also elevates any cocktail. The sky’s the limit.
An Ancient Healer
Along with its culinary uses, organic ginger has served as holistic medicine for centuries. From ayurvedic practices to traditional Chinese medicine, ginger is a global healing remedy. Many have described ginger as a ‘yang tonifying herb’ that warms up the body. In fact, ancient Greeks used to eat it—wrapped in bread—as a post-dinner digestive aid. Fast-forward to modern day, and ginger is still being used to treat numerous ailments, like migraines and hypertension.
Ginger’s Medicinal Properties
With its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, studies show that ginger boosts your overall immunity. No wonder it’s often recommended to use ginger for the common cold. When you’re feeling under the weather (or are battling morning sickness or menstrual cramps), sipping on warm tea with lemon, honey, and ginger is extra soothing.
The compound that is most responsible for ginger’s medicinal properties is gingerol. As the main bioactive compound, research indicates that gingerol may reduce oxidative stress, which is a result of having excess inflammation in the body. Because of its antibacterial qualities, ginger may be beneficial in managing the pain associated with certain diseases, like arthritis. Ginger can even lower the body’s blood sugar response too.
What is Inflammation?
In addition to aiding in digestion and nausea, ginger also helps fight inflammation. But, what is inflammation? Inflammation is your body’s immune system response to an irritant. That irritant could be anything from a pathogen (a germ) to a splinter. During the process of inflammation, your body’s white blood cells protect you from infection.
But in some instances, your immune system is triggered without an invader. Like, arthritis. In this instance, your body’s defense system triggers inflammation. In turn, this can cause chronic joint pain, swelling, and even flu-like symptoms. Inflammation gets a bad rap, but you do need some inflammation. When your body has just enough inflammation, it fights off foreign invaders and heals injuries. When your body has too much inflammation, it can ignite a long list of unwanted pain, discomfort, and disease.
Ginger wards off inflammation
When it comes to fighting off inflammation—which can run rampant in the body—ginger is one of the best natural sources. Study after study confirms this. In essence, ginger inhibits the production of pro-inflammatory substances. It reduces oxidative stress (the result of having an excess amount of free radicals in the body). In turn, inflammation in the body decreases. Ginger is a miracle worker. Incorporating it into recipes, drinks, and tonics is an easy way to minimize inflammation’s adverse effects.
6 Different Forms of Ginger
Ginger is available in six forms: fresh, dried, candied, ground, pickled, and preserved. Most commonly, it is consumed raw or in powdered form. In addition to being bought as a knob of fresh ginger, you can also buy it as a capsule for oral consumption. As mentioned, you can use ginger in cooking or it can be brewed as a tea or made into a syrup to flavor cold drinks. Less commonly, it can be applied directly to inflamed areas as a cream or oil.
Fresh and Candied Ginger
In its most potent form, fresh ginger is best in a tea, smoothie, or juice. Fresh ginger requires minimal prep. A quick peel and chop is all you need. You can freeze fresh ginger root as well! Candied ginger is absolutely delicious, which essentially refers to ginger that is cooked in a sweet syrup and rolled in sugar. Ginger-flavored candies are shelf stable and are the perfect treat after lunch or dinner.
Can You Eat Too Much Ginger?
On average, ginger dosage (in capsule form) should be kept around 2-4 grams per day. That said, when it comes to cooking with ginger, like adding it to a smoothie or stir-fry, it is safe to consume in moderate consumption. If you notice mouth irritation, heartburn, or bloating, consult your physician. Ginger can cause mild side effects, like heartburn and stomach discomfort. Before using ginger during pregnancy, chat with your healthcare provider. That said, the health benefits of ginger typically outweigh any negative effects.
Popular Ginger Recipes
When it comes to cooking or baking with ginger, a little goes a long way. Because fresh ginger has a pungent and spicy undertone, it elevates both sweet and savory dishes. When it comes to sauteing, we like to add some minced ginger at the beginning and more at the end. As it cooks down, it mellows in flavor. Also, keep in mind that the strength of ginger can vary. If you’re sensitive to its flavor, taste some of it before you add it. I love this Tropical Pineapple Ginger Smoothie from Camille Styles, this Chinese Ginger-Soy Steamed Fish from The Spruce Eats, and this Fresh Ginger Tea from Cookie + Kate. What are some of your favorite ways to incorporate ginger? Share your recipes in the comments below.
Images courtesy of Unsplash.