Ginger is the rhizome of the Zingiber officinale plant. It is commonly used as a spice and is considered to be a delicacy in some cultures. It is also known to have some medicinal qualities. Other spices from the same plant family include turmeric and cardamom.

This particular spice is indigenous to southern China. Over the years it spread across Asia and then to Africa and the Caribbean, before reaching India and then eventually Europe through trade. This versatile spice can be consumed raw, pickled or cooked.


The History and Production of Ginger

The name of this spice can be traced back to several different sources, including the Latin “gingiber” and the Old English “gingifer”. The spice has a long history of use both in cuisine and medicine. In 1585, it was grown in the New World and then imported back into Europe. Today, India is the leading producer of the spice, growing more than 380,000 tonnes each year. The crop is also grown heavily in China and Indonesia.


Nutrition and Health Benefits

It is well known that this spice can help to ease feelings of nausea, and as such it is often used as a treatment for travel sickness. However, other lesser-known benefits include reducing inflammation, soothing exercise-induced muscle pain and also reducing blood pressure. Some preliminary research suggests that the spice can also help to fight cancer, although these tests were performed on cells in a lab and need to be extended to scenarios closer to real life.

Ginger is fairly low in calories and fat but is a good source of potassium and also contains some vitamin B6, vitamin C and magnesium. Researchers are unsure exactly what it is in the spice that helps to prevent nausea. It is thought that the spice acts to control sickness by soothing the stomach and intestines, but since it also helps with travel sickness, which is a mental response rather than a digestive one, this theory may be incorrect. If the spice acts on the nervous system, this would explain how it can help with travel sickness.

There have been some trials which involve combining ginger with medications for migraines and even asthma and bronchitis. These trials have shown promising results which have been attributed to the inflammation-fighting properties of the spice.


Common Uses

This spice can be added to sweet snacks, used as a seasoning and used in savoury dishes too. It is often added to curries and rice dishes, and it is frequently used in sushi dishes too. It makes a good complement to garlic and is often added to chicken and meat dishes in Bangladeshi cuisine.

The Japanese use pickled ginger to make beni shoga or grate the spice to add to tofu and noodles. It is also processed to make a candy known as shoga no sato zuke.

In the west, the spice is used to make wines and ales, and it is also used in certain hot drinks, including coffees and teas.

The pungent taste of this spice comes from the gingerols and shogaols in it. These form when the root is dried and when it is cooked. If it is consumed in high quantities, then these substances can irritate the digestive tract and cause a laxative effect. However, moderate consumption should not be an issue.

In addition to its use in food, some people use this spice as an ingredient in fragrant essential oils. The sesquiterpenoids in the spice are the main ingredients. Essential oils that act as stimulants, analgesics and anti-bacterial agents often make use of this spice as an ingredient, and there are many other spices from the same family that also appear frequently in essential oils.


Important Warnings

Most people can consume this spice safely, but there are some people who should avoid it. Allergies are uncommon, but people who have had ulcers or who suffer from inflammatory bowel disease may have adverse reactions. In addition, the spice has been found to interact with warfarin, and can also aggravate the symptoms of people who suffer from gallstones. However, for most people, moderate consumption produces no ill effects and is likely to confer several health benefits.


Ginger in the Paleo Diet

The Paleo diet is a popular lifestyle choice that involves eating only the foods that your caveman (or Paleolithic) ancestors would have eaten. This means avoiding grains and processed foods in favour of fresh meat and vegetables, nuts, berries and fruit.

Spices and spices make up a good part of the Paleo diet. In fact, using them when cooking from scratch is actively encouraged. Not only do they add flavour to your dishes, but they also contain essential micronutrients which will be beneficial to your health.

If you are new to the Paleo lifestyle, you may find it difficult to come up with interesting and tasty meals. Learning how to make use of spices and spices to add variety to your favourite staples is a good idea. Once you have an understanding of which spices work well together, you can get a lot of mileage out of chicken, broccoli, rice, and other simple ingredients, and you won’t find yourself bored and wanting to snack on processed foods and sugary treats.

Getting used to the Paleo diet can take a while, but you should find that once you are in the routine of eating “natural” foods you experience fewer cravings, have more energy, sleep better and have lower cholesterol levels. If you were overweight before you started the diet, you may find that you lose weight even though you are not counting calories. Some of these benefits come from what you are eating, but others come from what you are removing from your diet. By consuming less sugar and cutting out artificial flavourings, preservatives and colourings, you give your body a chance to get rid of any toxins and also to adapt to the more natural diet. You should learn to listen to your body and fill up on foods that make you feel good.



photo credit: Ingwer (Zingiber officinale) via photopin (license)