Ginger is a common ingredient for cooking as well as a Chinese medicinal material.

When we mention 'ginger', what springs to mind? The famous Three-Cup Chicken dish? A bowl of fresh fish soup with shredded ginger? Or a cup of ginger tea with brown sugar, bringing you both sweetness and warmth?

Ginger is one of 80 members of the Zingiberaceae plant family also including turmeric (an important ingredient of curries), Kaempferia galanga (used for cooking braised chicken with salt) and striolate ginger (a kind of Japanese parsley). The scent of ginger comes from its volatile constituents such as terpenoid, while gingerol and shogaol give ginger its pungent and spicy taste. The stability and high boiling point of ginerol make ginger keep its spiciness no matter how it is cooked, so it is always an important ingredient in cooking.

Spring ginger, raw ginger and aged ginger are all common types found in the market. Spring ginger is harvested about four months after sprouting. It has a mild flavour and no stringy fibres. It comes with light-coloured, thin coating, so it rots easily and cannot be kept for a long period. When spring ginger continues to grow and its outer skin turns yellow, it becomes raw ginger, which has a stronger spicy flavour. Aged ginger is the root remaining in the soil after the raw ginger is harvested. It is usually harvested after six months’ growth. The older the ginger, the spicier it tastes. Aged ginger has a more fibrous texture and stronger flavour. With a tough, rough outer layer brown in colour, it can be stored for a long time.

Apart from the above, there is also turmeric, which is in fact raw or aged ginger stored in a cellar for a period ranging from a couple months to one year. Turmeric turns harder with a rich deep orange-yellow hue and has a very strong ginger taste. It is known as one of the best spices but markets have only a limited supply. 

Anti-ageing

Ginger is not only a unique spice but is also good for health. You can keep young if you consume a certain amount of ginger every day. This is because gingerol turns to an antioxidant enzyme after metabolism and this can reduce the damage to cells from free radicals and inhibit the spots on blood vessels and the skin.

Anti-dizziness and vomiting

Research proves that ginger can be used to reduce the severity of seasickness by suppressing vomiting, vertigo and nausea. It can also enhance the secretion of gastric acid and promote abdominal mobility, thus improving the digestive system and the stomach’s health. 

Warming the body

A cup of ginger tea can keep you warm on a rainy day or in an air-conditioned space. The gingerol and essential oils in ginger can expand the blood vessels and activate the blood’s circulation and so warm the whole body.

Keeping men healthy 

Recent studies have found that ginger can stimulate different body functions, including improving the prostate function and helping to cure prostate-related ailments and sexual dysfunction, especially among middle-aged and old men.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, ginger can relieve exterior symptoms, dispel colds, relieve coughing, reduce sputum and stop vomiting. Thus people always say ginger is not only a mouth-watering spice for cooking but also an amazing herb for promoting good health.

(Article originally posted in Hong Kong Economic Journal on 23 August, 2018.)