I’m not going to tell you that the smell or taste of ginger reminds me of my childhood, or that mom used to keep the funny looking rhizomes in the pantry where I’d look at them curiously. The truth is that I didn’t discover ginger until I had moved out of the house and was cooking for myself. After a fantastic meal at an authentic Chinese food restaurant in Chinatown in Toronto (before this I had thought that Chinese food was chicken balls and fried rice) I became obsessed with Asian cuisine; buying ingredients I didn’t know how to use and trying to mimic flavors without really knowing what I was doing.
These days I use ginger both to give cooking that irreplaceable spicy sweetness and to take advantage of its medicinal properties. Ginger is a great source for antioxidant phytonutrients including gingerol, shogaol and zingrone. Gingerol is actually a potent antioxidant that has been found in studies to relieve osteo and rheumatoid arthritis pain, even in patients who didn’t respond to medications.
Ginger has been valued as an anti-inflammatory for generations in many medicine traditions. In the 1970’s, western science confirmed this when it was discovered that ginger had an inhibitory effect on prostaglandins which promote inflammation. This is similar to how non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) work, only without the nasty side effects. It has also been discovered that ginger inhibits several genes involved in inflammation making it a double whammy for lowering inflammation.
And as many of us know, ginger is also highly valued for the gastrointestinal relief it provides. It is used to treat nausea, to protect the stomach lining, to modulate digestive juices, increase bile secretion and increase the action of lazy bowels. When experiencing any sort of digestive discomfort it’s good to have ginger on hand.
Ginger is also good as an antibiotic, killing many different types of pathogenic bacteria. Eating pickled ginger with sushi was a way for traditional Japanese to protect themselves from microbes in the raw fish (check the ingredients on your pickled ginger, though – some of the cheaper stuff can contain aspartame and chemical food coloring. Try to avoid the pink stuff in favor of something closer to ginger’s natural color). Gingerol was also used in a study from the University of Minnesota’s Hormel Institute to prevent and treat colorectal cancer in mice.
And ginger also reduces the “stickiness” of blood platelets and may therefore be helpful in reducing the risk of atherosclerosis. It is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to dispel pathogens from the system by inducing sweating, dispelling a cough and reducing excess phlegm in the lungs.
So basically, in case of illness or if you are prone to digestive difficulties, it’s a good idea to keep ginger in the house. I always stock ginger tea in my pantry, for either enjoying a cup when the mood strikes or relieving the occasional digestive upset. As I mentioned earlier, I also cook with fresh ginger regularly, adding it to stir fries, soups or sauces. And why not? – it tastes fantastic and gives an antioxidant boost at the same time.
Author by Doug DiPasquale