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Shiny lollies

Did you know?
If you block your nose, an apple, an onion and a potato all taste the same. They all taste sweet. Much of what we taste actually comes from our sense of smell and the vapours created when we chew our food being sensed by a backdraft to our olfactory receptors.

So you thought you had exquisite taste!

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Herbs & Spices Section


Ginger is native to India and China, preferring a warm to tropical climate. It takes its name from the Sanskrit word stringa-vera, which means “with a body like a horn”, as in antlers. This shape is the result of ginger's rhysome, root system that replicates by forming a "finger" node off the "hand" or parent rhysome.

In the West we harvest the rhysome which is washed and sold raw, however in some parts of Asia, the young stalks and roots are also harvested too and eaten as a vegetable delicacy added to stir fry dishes. The ginger flavour is not as hot as in the rhysome or what we call "root" ginger in the West.

Ginger has been important in Chinese medicine for many centuries, and is mentioned in the writings of Confucius. It is also named in the Koran, the sacred book of the Moslems, indicating it was known in Arab countries as far back as 650 A.D.

Ginger Plant

A Ginger plant showing the rhysome system.

For over 5000 years ginger was revered as the "universal medicine" by the ancient Orientals of China and India and highly sought after by spice traders.

Ginger was mentioned prominently in China's first great Herbal, The Pen Tsao Xing, purported to be written by the mythical emperor sage Shen Nung around 3,000 BCE. He recommended ginger for colds, fever, chills, tetanus and leprosy. The Pen Tsao Xing also recommended ginger to remove body odours that the gods may find offensive, a practise echoed later by the ancient Indian sanscrit texts. Chinese women were taking ginger for menstrual discomforts and it was widely prescribed as a treatment for morning sickness around 1,000 BCE.

Confucius and Pliny praised it in their writings. Even Nostradamus, himself a doctor, included recipes for wine and ginger preserved in honey and the Koran speaks of a fountain of ginger flavoured water. British University's Professor Roger Collier developed a ginger and garlic cocktail which he claims thins the blood, dissolves clots and lowers blood pressure. Today tests have shown that ginger cuts down on bad UDL and raises good HDL cholesterol, contains no fat or sugar and can be added to foods to heighten flavour without adding calories. Maybe those ancients knew something we didn't!

Dried or powdered ginger is common in baked goods in the Western world, but fresh, it is a staple in Asian cuisines. Commonly served with sushi, pickled ginger neutralizes any sort of 'fish' smell and should be purchased young and wrinkle free. Older ginger can be used, but will have a stronger taste; one would be advised to use less. Remove the skin before cooking and slice in thin strips.

Whitefish cooked in miso served with a young ginger stalk garnish

A young ginger shoot is used as a garnish in this signature dish, Whitefish cooked in miso, from Norbu Resturaunt, one of Melbourne's finest Japanese resturaunts.

In some Japanese dishes pickled ginger stalks and roots are used as a spicy garnish. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • For a stronger flavour in your dishes add towards the end of cooking, rather than the beginning (unlike many other spices).

  • Add grated ginger to lemonade to reduce sweetness and give it a zing.

  • Add to curry, curry powder or curry paste to create an exotic gourmet taste.

  • Add it to stir-frys. Especially good with coconut cream and lime zest.

  • Added to a rice pudding with cardamom, grated fresh ginger gives it an amazing exotic flavour.

  • Add thin slices to green salads, especially if served with fish

  • Boil ginger in white vinegar and use the vinegar in stir fry or salads for a lift. Especially nice on fish if added while cooking.

  • Ginger tea served after a meal will improve digestion, increasing the secretions in the digestive tract.


Ginger was one of the earliest spices known in Western Europe, used since the ninth century. It became so popular in Europe that it was included in every table setting, like salt and pepper. A common article of medieval and Renaissance trade, it was one of the spices used against the plague. In English pubs and taverns in the nineteenth century, barkeepers put out small containers of ground ginger, for people to sprinkle into their beer — the origin of ginger ale.

In animal husbandry it was used in order to ’gee up’ a lazy horse, it is the time honoured practice of Figging - To treat a horse in such a way as to make the animal appear lively, as by putting a piece of ginger into the anus. Because Ginger is an irritant, the animal will act more lively and carry it's tail high, a favourable trait with Arabs and other highly spirited breeds of show horse. This treatment is outlawed by Equestrian organisations and today is considered as animal abuse.

The characteristic odor and flavor of ginger is caused by a mixture of zingerone, shogaols and gingerols, volatile oils that compose one to three percent of the weight of fresh ginger. In laboratory animals, the gingerols increase the motility of the gastrointestinal tract (promote movements that aid digestion) and have an analgesic (general pain killing), sedative (calming), antipyretic (fever reducing) and antibacterial (killing bacteria) properties. Ginger oil has been shown to prevent skin cancer in mice and a study at the University of Michigan demonstrated that gingerols can kill ovarian cancer cells.

Fresh cut ginger rhyzome
Fresh cut ginger rhyzome

The medical form of ginger historically was called Jamaica ginger; it was classified as a stimulant and carminative, and used frequently for dyspepsia and colic. It was also frequently employed to disguise the taste of medicines. Ginger is on the FDA's "generally recognized as safe" list.

See also "Ginger" in our Nutrition Section

According to Paul Schullick in the book and reports from his trials “Ginger, Common Spice or Wonder Drug”, his trials in Denmark showed that ginger's anti-inflammatory properties can assist in the treatment of arthritis and also his tests reported an amazing side effect when the usual winter colds disappeared. Ginger's anti toxic properties have an anti viral, anti fungal, anti histamine and anti bacterial effect which is basically what we are taking antibiotics, cold and flu tablets, cough mixtures and aspirin for. Tests by the University of Maryland confirm many of the findings of the Denmark studies (University of Maryland Medical Centre (2006).

Pink Ginger
A "hand" of pink ginger

Case Western University dermatology researchers found that ginger oil helps prevent skin cancer in mice in preliminary tests released last year. Researchers covered mice in ginger oil and then exposed them to chemicals that create cancer. The ginger inhibited the growth of skin cancers on the mice. Here in the Southern Hemisphere where the hole in the Ozone layer has a devastating effect on skin cancer rates, this research is being followed closely.

Separator bar with green apple

People who should avoid consuming large amounts of Ginger

Ginger should not be consumed in quantity by anyone suffering from gall stones as it promotes the production of bile (Al-Achi, Antoine. " A Current Look at Ginger Use ). It also can interact with some medications, including warfarin, a blood anti-coagulant medication.

Ginger and morning sickness

Ginger could relieve the nausea and vomiting experienced by pregnant women, say Australian researchers. Ginger does not prevent morning sickness but it may help ease some of the nausea experienced by pregnant women, researchers reported in the April 2004 issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Researchers from the University of South Australia in Adelaide gave nearly 300 women either 350mg of ginger or 25mg of vitamin B6 three times per day for 3 weeks. The researchers found that both ginger and vitamin B6, which is sometimes taken to counteract morning sickness, worked equally well at alleviating nausea symptoms. Due to the small sample size, the researchers concluded that more research was needed to determine ginger's risks and benefits.

Fresh ginger root
Ginger won't prevent morning sickness but may ease the symptoms

Ginger and nausea

Ginger’s ability to quell the queasies is its most widely publicised product benefit. A 1982 study from Brigham University and Mount Union College in Ohio found that ginger was more effective than the common anti-nausea drug Dramamine in blocking motion sickness. The Mayo clinic conducted studies of chemotherapy related nausea and the effects of administering ginger ( and found it did work and improved the efficacy of other anti-nausea medications, particularly with children.

Ginger most likely works against motion sickness by “interrupting the feedback (neural impulses) between the stomach and the nausea centre of the brain” says psychologist Daniel Mowrey, co-author of the Brigham Young Study. It is ideal for patients of chemotherapy, to reduce nausea and it's antibacterial properties aid their weakened immune system.

Ginger and motion sickness

Why is ginger ale served on airplanes?
Many studies have shown that ginger eases motion sickness and aids digestion. Commission E (a panel of experts appointed by the German equivalent of the FDA and considered to be the world’s most reliable source on herbal remedies) recommends consuming ginger to prevent motion sickness. In one study reported in The Lancet, ginger capsules were more effective than Dramamine in reducing motion sickness induced by a revolving chair. Of course this shouldn't really be news to us; the Chinese were using ginger in sailor's food and as a herbal treatment for seasickness before 1,000 BCE. The Ancient Greek traders used ginger to ward off seasickness on their ships. It just took Western science a while to catch up. It’s no coincidence that ginger ale, as a soothing beverage, has been served on the airlines nearly since the beginning of commercial aviation.

Fresh ginger root

Ginger's Antioxidant Properties:

Ginger is a good antioxidant. It contains two phenolic compounds, shogaol and zingerone, that protect fats from being damaged by highly destructive forms of oxygen (free radicals). Source: American Health 1988, James Dulce Ph.D.
Ginger is a powerful antioxidant with more than twelve constituents superior to vitamin E. Ginger helps neutralized free radicals which are widely recognized as participating or being responsible for the inflammatory process. Source: Ginger East to West 1984, Bruce Cost.

Ginger's effect on blood flow:
Ginger is known to be a rubefacient, reddening the skin by stimulating the flow of blood to a given area. This property alone accounts for much of its ability to ease soreness. It is also a carminative (ridding the stomach and intestines of gas) and an aid in the digestion of fatty foods. Source: Readers Digest: Magic and Medicine of Plants.

Recommended dosages from the University of Maryland (

In general, ginger intake should not exceed 4 grams daily (this includes the ginger obtained through diet such as from ginger ale, ginger snaps, and ginger bread). Usually, food sources contain no more than 0.5% ginger.

Standardized dose: Take 75 - 2,000 mg in divided doses with food, standardized to contain 4% volatile oils or 5% total pungent compounds including 6-gingerol or 6-shogaol.

For nausea, gas, or indigestion: 2 - 4 grams of fresh root daily (0.25 - 1.0 g of powdered root) or 1.5 - 3.0 mls (30 - 90 drops) liquid extract daily. To prevent vomiting, take 1 gram of powdered ginger (1/2 tsp) or its equivalent, every 4 hours as needed (not to exceed 4 doses daily), or 2 ginger capsules (1 gram), 3 times daily. You may also chew a 1/4 oz piece of fresh ginger when needed.

For pregnancy-induced vomiting, use 250 mg 4 times daily.

To relieve arthritis pain: Take fresh ginger juice, extract, or tea, 2 - 4 grams daily. Topical ginger oil may also be rubbed into a painful joint. Fresh ginger root may also be placed in a warm poultice or compress and apply to painful areas.

For cold and flu symptoms, sore throat,headache and menstrual cramps: Steep 2 tbsp of freshly shredded ginger in hot water, 2 - 3 times daily. A drop of ginger oil or a few slices of fresh rhizome may also be placed in steaming water and inhaled.

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Culinary Uses for Ginger

Ginger is a staple ingredient in most Asian cooking. The Chinese particularly like ginger’s tenderizing properties when used as a marinade, the Dutch have made ginger cake for breakfast for centuries whilst the Japanese insist on the best pickled ginger or "gari" for their sushi.

Many Asian foods use ginger as one of the main spices.
Many Asian foods use ginger as one of the main spices.

Meanwhile we in “the West” Crystallised ginger chips in cookies, ginger in soups, pickled ginger on salads. Ginger is used in a variety of forms:

Fresh ginger - Often referred to a s “Root Ginger” it is actually a rhizome, not a root. A piece of the rhizome, called a ‘hand’. It has a pale yellow interior and a skin varying in colour from brown to off-white. Buderim ginger, (from Buderim, Queensland, Australia) which is pale buff, is regarded as one of the best varieties in the world.
African and Indian ginger is darker skinned and generally inferior, with the exception of Kenya ginger. Buy your ginger fresh from your fruit supplier when it is in season. Choose ginger hands that are thick, not wrinkled and dry looking.

Fresh ginger

Fresh ginger

Powdered ginger is the buff-coloured ground spice made from dried root. The powder should be yellow and not white. Over time it will bleach with age and white powder is indicative of age.

Ginger flakes are slices of fresh ginger dried. This is usually only used in Asian cultures and mostly in Asian medicine rather than cuisine.

Preserved or ‘stem’ ginger is made from fresh young roots, peeled and sliced, then cooked in a heavy sugar syrup. The ginger pieces and syrup are canned together. They are soft and pulpy, but extremely hot and spicy.

Crystallized ginger is also cooked in sugar syrup, then air dried and rolled in sugar. This is often bagged and sold as confectionery ginger.

Pickled ginger also known as gari, (I show you how to make this yourself in the next section) is paper thin slices of the rhizome pickled in a vinegar solution. The ginger turns a pale pink and is served with fish dishes because it removes the fishy smell and refreshes the palate between courses. We buy our ginger in season and preserve it this way ourselves, for use the rest of the year.

Gari is finely sliced ginger pickled in vinegar

Some of our pickled ginger or gari.

Ginger Juice is usually used in catering applications and available usually only from the growers. However some arthritis sufferers claim it is an excellent additive to a warm bath to relieve arthritis pain.

Ginger chips these are small pieces of either preserved or crystallized ginger and can be substituted for chocolate chips in any cookie, muffin or cake recipe. A simple way to cheat and create a whole different flavour batch of cookies for almost no extra effort.

Fresh Ginger hand

Preserving Ginger - Gari

Ginger can be preserved in a variety of ways but for most of us, the easiest way is to pickle it as gari. If you get into that 'cottage' look, with the shelves of preserves, this one is for you. You'll need some fresh ginger root and white vinegar or rice wine vinegar if you want to be truly authentic.

Some pink gari I made

Some pink gari I made

Gari is easy to make. Simply scrub the ginger root with a pot scrubber to remove any loose skin. Finely slice some fresh ginger while you bring some white vinegar to the boil. Add the slices to the boiling vinegar, making sure the vinegar returns to boiling each time. Have some clean jam jars with metal lids warming in the oven. Put some boiling vinegar into a hot jar and add the sliced ginger, removing any air bubbles. Cap the jar while it's still hot so it vacuum seals (in about a hour it will make a loud pop as the lid seals). Keep in the pantry until opened then store in the refrigerator. I usually do this with more vinegar than I need to fill the jars and the left over vinegar is bottles as ginger balsamic vinegar afterwards.

To use in cooking, a handy cheat is to put it through your garlic press, with the garlic - much easier than cutting it up fine, if you have a family like mine who don't react too well to a piece of hot ginger turning up in their stir fry.

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