Rogers, nuts and tabby cats. What have they all got in common? They’re all Ginger. Don’t worry though, this is not going to be a piece about Ron Weasley or Chris Evans. This is all about the vivid golden-orange spice after which their flame-coloured locks are named.
For many years, the only ginger found in British kitchens was the ground, pungent spice essential to a wide range of baked goods, from brandy snaps to ginger cake and Smartie-buttoned gingerbread men.
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No tea party in the 1950s would be complete without a few slices of parkin, a plateful of the aforementioned ginger nuts and lashings of ginger beer for the kids. But let’s go back further in time, and halfway across the world, to find out more about its origins.
Easy to grow
The European use of ginger, in its dried, ground, powdered form, is a world away from the way it is used in its native Asia. Indigenous to southern China, the cultivation of ginger spread across the continent, with India now the biggest producer of the crop.
Ginger is a member of the Zingiberaceae family (and is the plant after which the family is named). As such, it is related to some other staple spices of Asian cuisine; turmeric, cardamom and galangal. The ginger plant can grow to a metre tall with long, leafy stems. It has attractive clusters of white and pink flower buds that open into bright yellow flowers. Given its aesthetic appeal, ginger is often grown ornamentally in warmer climes such as Australia.
Ginger has also become popular as a house plant in the UK, due to its attractive flowers and the fact that it can tolerate a lot of shade. It can require some patience, as it takes the ginger rhizome (root or tuber) up to 10 months to mature, but the unmatched taste of fresh ginger makes it all worthwhile.
Ginger is a key ingredient in Chinese cooking, being one part of the staple triumvirate of garlic, chilli and ginger. Rather than drying and grinding the rhizome, it is used fresh, whether sliced, crushed or grated. Some recipes, such as this Stir Fry Ginger Beef, call for both grated ginger and matchsticks of ginger, offering a double hit of flavour. Ginger is also a tenderiser and is therefore often used when marinating meat in dishes such as this Chilli and Ginger Pork Stir-Fry.
Ginger can also be found in many Indian recipes, providing fragrance and a different type of heat to Indian dishes such as a Dopiaza – it may be ‘double onion’, but the ginger is important too. in Indian cooking, the fresh ginger will often be made into a paste with fresh garlic and will commonly be added to the hot pan at the start of cooking.
As with many other Asian spices, ginger has been found to have health benefits. It has long been used to combat nausea (even morning sickness during pregnancy) and other digestive discomfort – it is also a carminative. A cup of ginger tea is also said to relieve stress.
Ginger is just one of the many spices that make Asian cuisine so flavourful. See our product list to find out how we use our high quality herbs and spices. You can now find the Cafe Asia range in over 500 branches of Iceland across the UK.