The tastes and smells of ginger are intertwined with childhood memories.
Ginger ale, coloring books, and a fresh box of crayons saw me through a weeks’ long battle with chicken pox. The sweet distinctive smells of gingerbread cake welcomed me back inside after a fall afternoon raking leaves.
But I don’t remember ginger making its way into main dishes until I was in college and had Indian food for the first time. It was a pungent, tangy, aromatic revelation.
Many studies are working to solidify ginger’s medicinal qualities. It’s long been used to treat nausea, motion sickness, and morning sickness. More recent studies are looking at its ability to offer pain relief from rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, migraines, menstrual cramps, and headaches, as well as its anti-carcinogenic properties and its use in treating respiratory tract infections, coughs, and bronchitis.
Ben Bebenroth doesn’t need convincing — he has been growing ginger at Spice Acres for two seasons now.
“Ginger is a superfood and so good for us on many levels,” explained Ben. “We love to have it around for boosting our immune systems as well as for the great flavors that come from all parts of the plant. We use the leaves and stems for a bitters and the roots for all kinds of flavor-building in tea, sauces, alcohol infusions, fruit salads, jellies, really anything you can think of.”
Ginger is a key part of Indian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese foods. The knotted, beige ginger root is called a rhizome and was originally found in Southern Asian tropical rainforests. A lucrative ancient spice trade brought it to Europe via India.
Spice Acres’ ginger comes from Hugh “Biker Dude” Johnson’s Puna Organics farm in Hawaii. He Dude has been growing organic ginger and turmeric for export since 1992. He and his wife also have a retreat in Hawaii, yourhawaiianretreat.org. (I think I need to go there for some first-hand research. Editors note: not in the budget!)
Puna’s seed ginger is certified organic and disease free, and Ben said Puna is a highly reputable source. Ben notes that most ginger in stores is irradiated and has no living wild yeast or natural bacteria on it, so it can’t be used to make naturally fermented ginger beer. That’s something he’s hoping to use Spice Acres’ ginger for in the future.
Spice Acres is growing two types of ginger from Puna — Bubba Baba and Yellow Hawaiian — in a hoop house under a mini orchard of fig trees.
To use fresh ginger, cut off the skin with a paring knife and slice, mince, or julienne. Add ginger at the beginning of cooking for a milder taste or at the end for more pungent flavor. It is aromatic and ads tangy freshness and light spiciness.
Of all its uses, Ben says, the best is the simplest. “My favorite way to use ginger is just to grate it over some fresh cut apples with a pinch of sugar and a healthy squeeze of fresh lemon juice. We serve that over popover pancake with syrup and powdered sugar.”