Samui Wining & Dining
Just Gin ger!

A culinary spice and medicinal marvel, that versatile seasoning, ginger.


5Ginger. Quick! What's the first thing you think of when you hear that word? Maybe it brought back childhood memories of sweet and spicy gingerbread men. Or perhaps it made you think of a fiery redhead you know...

    You’ve seen it piled high in baskets at the local market – that knotty, sandy-coloured root with its misshapen form (strictly speaking, it's a rhizome, not a root). Whether you've realised it or not, ginger plays a big part in many cuisines. It's delicious, useful, and has been used for culinary and medicinal purposes for thousands of years, starting right here in Asia. Although native to Southeast Asia, ginger can be found sprouting all over the world. As a spice, the use of ginger dates back at least 4,400 years; but its usefulness as a medicine, was only discovered around 2,000 years ago.

  Turning back the clock... The Romans were the first to import ginger from China, and by the middle of the 16th century, Europe was receiving more than 2,000 tonnes annually from the East Indies. The major producers today are China, Brazil, Jamaica, Nigeria, and tropical parts of Asia. In the 19th century English pub bartenders put out small pots of ground ginger for patrons to sprinkle into their beer. And it was the ancient Greeks who first created that much-loved treat, gingerbread.

      So besides being delicious, What's all the hype about ginger? Well, it has several medicinal benefits, one of the most common being its ability to take the edge off nausea. Whether it's morning sickness, motion sickness, an upset stomach or a reaction to chemotherapy treatments, ginger works directly in the digestive system to treat the problem, rather than 'blocking' messages to the brain, as some other anti-nausea medications do. It can relieve heartburn too, another common pregnancy symptom..

      Ginger is also used to relieve arthritis-related joint pain, as it contains anti-inflammatory agents. In addition, it's an effective digestive aid. The theory is that ginger increases saliva and stomach secretions, allowing food to digest easily, with no irritation whatsoever.

       The easiest way to get your daily dose of ginger is as a tea. And you can find boxes of ginger tea at any supermarket, especially here in Thailand. Or make your own – steep 20-40g of fresh, sliced ginger in a cup of hot water. Add a slice of lemon or a drop of honey if you fancy. This aromatic tea is great to drink when you feel a cold coming on. It's a diaphoretic tea, meaning that it will warm you from the inside and promote perspiration, letting you 'sweat it out' so to speak. It also acts as an immune-booster, yet another benefit.

      This juicy root can aid other cold and flu symptoms too, and with the trend turning back to natural cures wherever possible, this is good news. Ginger tea with a good splash of lemon juice and a dollop of honey will help a sore throat. For a persistent cough, take a half teaspoonful of ginger powder, a pinch of clove, a pinch of cinnamon powder and some honey in a cup of boiled water, and drink it as tea. Many spas, including those here on Samui, use ginger in their body scrubs, wraps, steam baths and hot compresses. You may feel as though you're being basted and prepared for the oven like a plump chicken, but ginger used this way helps stimulate blood and lymph fluid circulation, as well as dissolve toxic matter.

      On a culinary note, ginger has a peppery flavour, with a hint of lemon, and a pungent and sharp aroma. Galangal is a type of ginger used in Thai kitchens as well as other Southeast-Asian cuisines. Also known as Siamese ginger, it has a slightly milder taste than the common variety, and its skin is reddish. Galangal contributes to the distinct flavour of tom yum (spicy clear soup) as well as tom kha (coconut milk soup). When enjoying a bowl of either soup, don't be shy to suck the flavour out of the chunks of floating galangal, lemongrass and lime leaves floating in the broth.

      Anyone who knows their sushi will be familiar with pickled ginger – those paper-thin pink slivers, known as gari, that are meant to cleanse the palate between courses. Crystallised ginger is cooked in sugar syrup, air dried and rolled in sugar, delicious coated in dark bitter chocolate.

      Hungry yet? Gingerbread, ginger nut cookies, ginger snaps, ginger ale, ginger beer, or how about some stir-fried pork with soy and ginger? Ginger is used in marinades, sauces, stuffings, and salad dressings. Now strictly speaking, ginger is a herb, but most people think of it as a spice, due to it's potent flavour. It goes well with sweet or savoury dishes too. In its dried, powdered form, ginger tends to be hotter and more concentrated, adding a distinct taste to curries and stews, or with sweet puddings, fruit cakes and particularly apple dishes. But fresh, it's flavour has more zest. Bet you're hungry now!

      Ready to try cooking with ginger? Firstly, choose the best you can find. Go for plump, unblemished roots. If possible, avoid any that are overly knobbly, as they're harder to work with. They should also feel heavy for their size. Break off a piece – you'll actually hear it snap like a carrot, another sign that it's fresh. With a paring knife, peel away the skin, taking only a small layer of the flesh beneath. Then grate, slice finely, or use a garlic press and add it to your culinary masterpiece. Store fresh ginger in the fridge, preferably in a brown bag, and it'll keep for about two weeks. As with all dried spices, ground ginger is good for about six months, if kept in an airtight container in a dark, cool place.

      “Run, run, as fast as you can. You can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man.” Bet you can't get that tune out of your head now, right?

Rosanne Turner


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