Was there ever a spice more tantalizing than ginger? Ever since Marco Polo reintroduced this vibrant and health-promoting rhizome to the West, we have been working it into our diets. We love ginger for its taste and also for the way it makes us feel!
Long before Marco Polo traveled along the Old Silk Route, ginger was widely used for medicinal purposes by healers in ancient India and China. Today, modern science backs up those historical claims, and ginger is now considered a superfood by modern nutritionists. Keep reading for more on what this remarkable root can do for you!
The History of Ginger
Like many plants with potent medicinal properties, ginger is native to the warmer climate zones of Southeastern Asia. Ginger is related to turmeric, another powerhouse plant from the same region with significant health benefits. As one of the first spices to be exported from Southeastern Asia, ginger was widely used by the ancient Romans and Greeks. It first gained prominence in North American kitchens to bring a pungent, slightly peppery element to sweetbreads, candies, and cookies, it wasn't long before cooks discovered its uses in savory dishes and beverages such as juices and teas, and its health benefits didn't go unnoticed either.
Health Benefits of Ginger
The main ingredient in ginger is a bioactive compound known as gingerol, which is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. Gingerol also gives ginger is unique and pleasant flavor. Here's just a few of its proven health benefits:
- Ginger is widely used to alleviate the symptoms of morning sickness and other stomach upsets, including chronic indigestion.
- Ginger helps ease muscle pain and soreness, including menstrual cramps.
- Ginger may lower blood sugar.
- Ginger promotes cognitive functioning.
- Ginger has cancer-fighting properties.
- Ginger improves cardiovascular health.
- Ginger has antibacterial properties that help fight infection.
- Ginger has been shown to decrease cholesterol levels.
Ginger also provides several essential vitamins and minerals:
- Niacin — niacin is good for overall cardiovascular health and is often used to treat high cholesterol.
- Riboflavin — riboflavin promotes healthy cell growth and plays an essential role in maintaining the body's supply of energy.
- Vitamin B-6 — vitamin B6 promotes healthy immune systems and helps keep central nervous systems running smoothly. It also aids in the production of serotonin, which may help improve mood.
- Magnesium — magnesium helps regulates blood pressure, strengthens bone tissue, and helps keep heart rhythms strong and steady.
- Phosphorus — phosphorus teams up with calcium to keep bones healthy and strong.
- Zinc — zinc is essential for healthy immune systems and promotes cell growth. It's also necessary for the senses of smell and taste.
- Folate — folate is a B vitamin that plays an essential role in healthy cell growth as well as helps regulate metabolism. Folate is the natural version of folic acid and is especially important for pregnant women because it aids in the prevention of certain birth defects.
Buying and Using Ginger in Your Home Kitchen
Ginger is easily found in the produce section of most markets. Look for roots that are firm to the touch and completely free of sprouting. Young pink ginger is smooth and shiny and more aromatic and floral in taste. Older ginger has a thicker skin and a spicier flavor. Store your ginger in a cool, dark place and it will last for weeks. Alternatively, you can store it in the freezer and then grate it straight into dishes! Ginger can be peeled before you use it, and once you've peeled it, it'll keep in the refrigerator for about two weeks.
There is hardly a dish, sweet or savory, that is not improved by a dash, grate or slice of ginger! From spicy curries to sweet treats, the options are endless. Some people like it pickled, crystallized, or preserved, eaten straight like candy or juiced and added to cocktails, juices or teas. Of course, our favorite way to consume ginger is in tea! Just slice an inch or so off the root and steep it in hot water. Then, add a dollop of honey and a squeeze of lemon! Or try a small splash of ginger juice in your next cup of Firepot Chai!