In ginger's native southeast Asia, the rhizome, a relative of turmeric and cardamom, has been used for thousands of years to settle stomachs, forestall colds, sooth inflammation, suppress coughs, reduce fatigue, relieve sore throats, invigorate circulation and cure constipation.
While modern scientists have stopped short of assigning panacea status to the plant part, numerous studies have shown that ginger is a highly effective healer.
According to the National Institutes of Health, ginger can "safely relieve pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting." There's also evidence that ginger can suppress symptoms of seasickness and menstrual pain. Additionally, numerous studies have credited ginger with reducing pain association with osteoarthritis.
But ginger is equally valuable for those who are feeling fine. If you keep ginger in the pantry instead of the medicine chest, read on for seven ginger facts:
1. Ginger figures into teas, soups and gravies across Asia, but the root didn't reach the West until the Romans imported it about 2,000 years ago. Since hauling the spice home wasn't cheap, Spanish explorers in the 15th century arranged to grow ginger in their Caribbean, South American and Central American territories. The spice became so popular in Europe that it was made a standard element of table settings, alongside salt and pepper.
2. About one-third of the world's ginger is grown in India. China is runner-up in the top production race.
3. In the U.K., "ginger" is synonymous with redhead, which is perhaps an allusion to the pinkish blossoms on certain ginger plants or the root's fiery flavor. Lately, though, the term has become controversial. "From the earliest age, children grow up thinking that it's appropriate to make fun of redheads, and that 'ginger' is a fair term to use," the editor of Ginger Parrot wrote in an April essay for The Huffington Post UK. (She ultimately sided with fellow red-haired Brits who want to reclaim the term rather than allow bullies to use it to "instill fear and isolation.")
4. When shopping for ginger, seek out fat, firm roots with smooth skin. Ginger can be stored in the refrigerator, and ought to last for up to three weeks.
5. It's not necessary to peel ginger, especially if the root is young and its skin is thin. But if you choose to peel for aesthetic considerations, food blogger Elise Bauer recommends using the bowl of a metal spoon to scrape off the outermost layer. Ginger lasts longer if its stored with the peel intact, so it's wise to just peel the portion you plan to use.
6. Nineteenth-century English tavern keepers kept ground ginger on their bars so patrons could season their beers, a fashion which may have inspired ginger ale. The first ginger ales were golden, sweet and spicy; dry-style ginger ale was pioneered by a Canadian chemist in 1904. Vernors, introduced in 1866, was a golden ginger ale. The barrel-aged beverage is still popular in its hometown of Detroit.
7. Grated ginger is an easy addition to fresh juices, but it can also be minced for salad dressings; chopped for stir-fries or cut into strips and crystallized for baking into muffins and cakes. To crystallize, or candy, ginger, thekitchn.com suggests simmering ginger in equal parts water and sugar for 20 minutes. After cooling, the slices should be rolled in more sugar and stored in an airtight container.