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The ginger looked good so I bought half a kilo. It cost about two dollars. “Where is it from?” I asked the fruit store manager. “Hawaii,” he said. My, I thought, how the exotic has become ordinary.

Once ginger was a very rare commodity. It was part of the spice trade which drove. Europeans to discover the east. The Spice Cookbook notes that “During the middle ages in Europe a pound of ginger bought a sheep.”

Ginger originally came from India. It now grows in countries as disparate as Jamaica, Hawaii, and China, and in much of Africa—anywhere there is warm, rainy weather and a rich soil. The plant is a perennial. It usually grows up to a metre high and has narrow green leaves and greenish-yellow flowers streaked with purple. We eat the rhizome which is the gnarled stem that grows up from the root.

Ginger is easily identified by its sharp, almost acidic biting taste. Raw ginger is too powerful for most people to eat. Instead, its flavour is a wonderful accent for almost any dish including pickles, meat sauces, cooked vegetables, soft drinks, candy, and even ice cream.

Ginger’s pungency has also made it a favourite botanical medicine. It has been used in China for thousands of years to treat stomach aches, rheumatism, toothaches, and several illnesses. It has been used to combat malaria in Africa. In the India, ginger and honey is a common cold remedy.

Ginger is said to help the gastric system and ginger capsules are touted for alleviating motion sickness. Some researchers are looking at ginger as an anti-inflammatory that could be helpful for arthritis sufferers.

When you buy ginger, look for the heaviest, firmest pieces. Fresh ginger keeps for a long time in the kitchen. Put it in a paper bag with the onions and garlic and keep the top closed loosely.

Chopped finely, ginger is a common ingredient in stir fry dishes. A couple of pieces—mashed through a garlic press and boiled in a little water, then strained—make a juice that is delicious added to marinades and salad dressings. I like a slice of ginger in iced tea. If you savour the thin slices of ginger pickle served with sushi try this recipe. Take a half pound of ginger (about 250 grams). Wash and peel the root sections. It doesn’t matter if pieces break. Toss them in a bowl with two teaspoons of kosher salt. Leave this for a day. Remove the pieces and put them in a canning jar. Cover them with a mixture of one cup (225 mL) rice vinegar, 3 tablespoons (45 grams) sugar, and one-quarter cup (60 mL) of water. Let this sit for at least a week before they are ready. Serve them very thinly sliced (with the grain) or peeled.

© Barry Lazar 2000 Email Flavourguy

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