This is not a new trend but one of the best-kept culinary secrets. Ginger is a part of life in Jamaica. But North Americans don’t enter the world with a ginger rhizome in their hands. Discovering ginger is like finding true love. Life is never the same after you taste it. Fresh and spicy, between pepper and lemon, it excites the taste, invigorates the kitchen and prolongs pleasure. It’s not surprising that ginger has been ascribed aphrodisiac powers.
Though it originally comes from Southeast Asia, ginger “zingiber” is grown in most tropical countries. Many enthusiasts say ginger from Jamaica is the best. Choose ginger with thin and firm skin. When it is less fresh, it is less juicy, more fibrous and has a wrinkled appearance. Its skin is also thicker and it sticks more to the rhizome.
If you want to grate or peel ginger, choose rhizomes that are not too twisted. Porcelain ginger graters are available at the market. Personally, I don’t use mine because I find it more decorative than effective. Simply use a fine cheese grater. This way, the juice stays in the fibres.
The uses of ginger around the world
Many centuries before our time, ground ginger was added to tea in China. Europeans discovered ginger in Marco Polo’s “Book of Travels”. Ginger was the most common cooking spice at the time of the Crusades. It was often paired with pepper. In fact, ginger was the second most consumed spice after pepper. Nostradamus also dabbled in cooking and loved green ginger jam. He enjoyed making the much less expensive fake ginger jam. He flavoured thistle roots from dunes with pieces of ginger. According to him, the illusion was so successful that this flavoured root exceeded the taste and digestive quality of ginger. The Middle Ages were the heyday of this spice. It produces a magnificent flower that is exotic, increasingly popular and often offered in bouquets. French gastronomy forgot about ginger after the Renaissance, while the English, Flemish, German and Scandinavians maintained their love of it. Today, in Germany, it is impossible to visit the ancient imperial capital of Nuremberg without tasting its famous spicy Lebkuchen cookies. The English have their “gingerbread” or drinks like “ginger beer” or “ginger ale”.
In China, you can pick up little “ginger jars” of candied ginger. These little porcelain pots were collector’s items at one time. For their part, the Japanese grate ginger and serve it marinated in sweet vinegar (gari) to accompany sushi or to eat in jams.
In Scandinavian countries, ginger chewing gum is very popular while at my house it’s molasses cakes, lightly spiced with ginger, which are becoming increasingly popular.
Long confined to Asian or Middle Eastern kitchens, ginger is now used in all the sauces of a new generation of chefs, and not just for baking. Grated, ground, pressed for its juice, dried or candied, it adds a subtle perfumed scent and increases the appeal of poultry or fish that would otherwise seem rather dull.
Making candied ginger
If you live outside a major centre and candied ginger is scarce, you could make it yourself. The taste of homemade ginger is more pungent than what is found on the market so I use a little less. Make syrup by calculating an equal amount of water and sugar, for example 250 ml (1 cup) of water and 250 ml (1 cup) of white granulated sugar. The ginger should have the same weight as the sugar. You can peel and slice the ginger or cut it into small cubes. Let it simmer gently until all the syrup has evaporated. Place the candied ginger on parchment paper and sprinkle with sugar (optional).
Ginger in the freezer
Ginger can be kept in the fridge but freezing is another option. I freeze it whole, chopped or already shredded. It’s a good way to always have some on hand.
Helps fight nausea
If you suffer from motion sickness or morning sickness while pregnant, candied ginger or other products made from ginger can be very useful to alleviate nausea. Ginger is used in many countries as a natural anti-nausea remedy.