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Five flavours » Drinks and Snacks, Ingredients, Vegan, Vegetarian » All about ginger

All about ginger

Some things in life are just a wee bit awkward. Whenever I read or write a recipe, I’m always perplexed about what to do about the ginger. People often describe the amount needed as, ‘a thumb-sized piece’ or ‘a 5cm piece’ or ‘6 thick slices’. But that doesn’t sit well with people who don’t like variables. How big around is this piece? What about the little nobules (Yes, I made that word up.)? Do I measure them? How? I guess what ginger teaches us is that life is full of variables, so get used to it. And, do you know what else ginger says to me? It says, “I’m warm and yummy so quit worrying because more is ALWAYS better!”.

According to The Epicentre Encyclopedia of Spices, zingiber oficianale “It takes its name from the Sanskrit word stringa-vera, which means “with a body like a horn”, as in antlers.” This makes me wonder if, somewhere, there are legends told to children at bedtime about magical stags that used to donate the remnants from thier haircuts to cooks so they could have have more spiciness in their stews. How, eventually, the ginger begins to grow in the ground, I do not know. I’ll leave that to the legend writers.

Of course, I’m not the only ginger lover. People have loved it for centuries. It is a major player in all the ancient medicines and even the most mainstream, I-don’t-believe-in-folk-remedies, person would enjoy the taste of a hot ginger and honey drink to soothe a sore throat. Crystalised ginger is sometimes sold at bus stations in India (inji murappa) as a remedy for motion sickness. And then there’s Christmas with its ginger biscuits, candied stem ginger in jars and gingerbread houses. It’s almost like ginger was made for that holiday.

I keep my fresh ginger on the work surface in the kitchen because I tend to use it up fairly quickly. So many dinners in my house start with the chopping of garlic, ginger and onions by default. But, if you don’t use it as much as I do, you should still buy the fresh stuff. Choose smooth pieces and just break off the amount you need before weighing.  You can grate ginger and add a couple of drops of lemon juice to it and then press into cling-film covered ice cube trays for freezing. This is convenient, but bear in mind that it will still lose its flavour over time so plan to use it within a month. At different times of the year, you’ll notice that the ginger in your local shop looks a bit different. Young ginger is pinkish and much more tender so I usually leave the skin on and use more of it. Older ginger is more fiberous and robustly flavoured and has a tougher skin that is easiest to remove by scraping with a spoon. I never believed this until I tried it since a knife seemed the superior implement for the job, but try it. You’ll be surprised.

Can I interest you in this list of chemicals found in ginger? Snore. No? How about a basic recipe for a syrup you can use to make a refreshing drink or a ginger martini? I thought so.

Basic Ginger Sugar Syrup

You need:

a hefty piece of ginger which comes out to about a handful when peeled and grated

2 Cups of water

1 Cup of sugar


Place everything in a pan and bring to a simmer and leave . Do not stir while it is cooking. Turn down and let simmer for about 10-15 minutes until it has thickened slightly. Keep in the fridge and use within a week or two as it loses its flavour fairly quickly.

You can use this as you would cordial by putting some in a glass and topping up with still or sparkling water in a proportion of about 1:3. Squeeze a bit of lemon in and garnish with mint. Or you can do the same only in a mug with hot water. Maybe you could even sweeten your tea or coffee with it…or pour over ice cream or eat it straight off the spoon. No, I didn’t just say that.

The Epicentre 20 Nov 2010
Dr. Duke’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases. [Online Database] 20 November 2010

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3 Responses to "All about ginger"

  1. Marie says:

    Oh, Matt, ginger with carrot and apple is one of my favourite juices. It may be time to dust off that juicer again.

    Shiela, see, you’ve read my mind. I was supping on ginger martinis last night as I attempt to perfect my recipe. What I learned was that martinis are far too strong to be recipe-tested in the middle of the week!

  2. Shiela says:

    Cheers mate! (swirls virtual ginger martini while writing response to article). I am getting over a virus of some sort and yesterday my neighbor, who is from Bangladesh, suggested that I drink hot water with honey, ginger and lemon juice in it to clear my chest. I happened to have some fresh ginger from a dinner I made a few days ago and tried this wonderful concoction. SO NICE! After a few cups I ate up the little disks of now milder ginger at the bottom of the cup as well. Nice! I have to say, I laughed at your frustration about how to accurately measure ginger, as I share that same desire for accuracy! Oh, btw, I click on the chemical structures in ginger – ’cause I did in fact want to know. Lovely ginger – cheers to you! (virtual clink)

  3. matt says:

    Ohhhh man! BIG fan of ginger here! And I’m with you on the measuring bit. I just pull off one of the little nobs and use that much – no matter how big or small it is.

    It’s great in the juicer too. Peel it, then throw it in with a green apple and a couple of carrots! If you put in a lot, it burns like a nice cayenne chili.

    Thanks for the ginger syrup recipe… this will definitely serve as a good winter cold tonic.

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