Ginger is one of the world’s most individual and popular spices, which has been popularised in the UK within all sorts of food and drink, from ginger beer to gingerbread men (it was Queen Elizabeth 1 who ‘invented’ gingerbread men as she used to have ginger biscuits made and decorated in the likeness of her guests).
The history of ginger dates back some 5000 years. The famous Chinese philosopher Confucius swore by its healing powers whilst the Romans believed it to be a symbol of wealth and fertility.
The plant belongs to the Zingiberaceae botanical family that also includes turmeric and cardamom. It is a rhizome, or root, for a flowering herbaceous perennial, which produces pink and white buds that blossom into pretty yellow flowers. It’s still planted in gardens to this day for its aesthetic qualities and reaches a height of around four feet.
Ginger root was discovered in the subtropical rainforest of South Asia before being shipped to East Africa and the Caribbean. It was also exported to Europe via India in the first century AD through the lucrative spice trade and was hugely popular amongst the Romans.
Ginger has been a trading commodity since the 13th century when it was dried to ensure longevity on the long voyages between its Asian cultivation grounds and European markets.
Just like all imported goods at the time, ginger was hugely expensive and only the very wealthy could afford to indulge. To give you an idea of its worth, in the 14th century a pound of ginger was equivalent to the cost of an entire sheep.
Like many herbs and spices, health aficianados believe ginger has many medicinal and therapeutic benefits including:
- Reduces inflammation in arthritic joints
- Lowers cholesterol
- Thins the blood
- Eases stomach cramping, diarrhoea and sea sickness
- Relieves morning sickness
To this day, ginger is used extensively in Japanese cooking. In the UK, we’re familiar with ‘gari’, the thin slices of pickled ginger that are usually served as a palate cleanser alongside sushi.
Raw ginger root, or shouga, is often mixed with soy sauce as a marinade for pork or served grated on porridge in the winter months.
Japanese cooking also makes use of the young ginger shoots, known as hashouga, which are either eaten raw or enjoyed after pickling. They bear a striking resemblance to a spring onion.
With the summer not far away, why not try this zingy salad recipe that features a tasty ginger dressing. It’s a great starter or as an accompaniment to a BBQ.
Japanese Salad with Ginger Soy Dressing
- 4 baby gem lettuces
- 200g Yutaka shelled frozen edamame beans
- 4 carrots
- 140g radish
- 2 tbsp Yutaka rice wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp Yutaka soy sauce
- 2 tbsp caster sugar
- Half an onion
- 2 tsp of chopped Yutaka sushi ginger
- 1 tbsp tomato puree
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
Place all the dressing ingredients in a blender or food processor and add 1 tbsp water. Blend until smooth. Arrange the halved lettuce, edamame, carrots and radishes on 4 plates or 1 big platter. When ready to serve, drizzle the dressing over.
With thanks to bbcfood.com for the recipe