The Benefits of Ginger

Warming ginger jazzes up winter foods

| January/February 2001

Ginger-Infused Recipes

Chunky Ginger Syrup 
Scrambled Eggs and Onions 
Squash Soup 
Wine-Poached Pears 
Pain D'Epice 

It’s no wonder fresh ginger tastes pungent. It contains a family of molecules called gingerols that are structurally related to capsaicin, the compound responsible for the hot bite of chiles.

Challenge a cook to spice up a bland dish, and the obvious choice is ginger. No other seasoning combines the zing of a chile with a clean hit of citrus and the sweet bouquet of a spice such as cardamom or cloves. What a gift, then, that ginger comes with a bounteous platter of health benefits.

Derived from the rhizome (or subterranean stem) of Zingiber officinale, ginger is native to the Orient. It’s now grown in virtually all tropical regions and favored in nearly every cuisine and system of folk medicine. Healers use it for nausea, colic, gas, heartburn, ulcers, for motion and morning sicknesses, for coughs, and for osteoarthritis. Want a paradox and a mystery? Ginger helps warm you when you’re chilled, but it’s also sometimes used to reduce fever.

Recent data from researchers suggests that ginger has value in all these situations. Unfortunately, such research, despite the number of studies, has left more questions than answers. A few studies have been conducted using compounds isolated from ginger, such as one or more of the shogaols or gingerols, but most studies use dried ginger powder with an undetermined quantity of active compounds. When the spice is dried or cooked, gingerols are converted to shogaols, so the form of ginger used and the way in which it’s cooked may make a difference. Both fresh and powdered ginger possess healing compounds, but in varying amounts.

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