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Ginger Revisited - By Request
Sauces, Seasonings, and Spices
Spring Volume: 1999 Issue: 6(1) page(s): 7, 8, and 24
Requests have stuffed our mailbox for additional articles such as the one about oyster sauce (see Flavor and Fortune's Volume 5(3) on pages 11 and 12). Second in numbers were queries about ginger and soy sauce, then hoisin and sesame sauces. There were others for tofu and for frozen dumplings.
As many requests were for ginger, it is of note that readers ask about this common food when made into sauces, candies, etc. This plant that grows to three feet in height was featured in Flavor and Fortune's December 1995 issue (Volume 2(4) on page 12). That particular article included a recipe for Beef with Young Ginger, other articles in that and other issues had recipes for ginger, as well.
In this issue, on request, we revisit ginger. Throughout China, this food is commonly thought of as hot or yang, both philosophically and in reality. Ginger is quite pungent and gives a sense of warming when swallowed. Ginger is not a root, but a rhizome known as Zingiber officinale. It is probably the oldest seasoning item in Chinese and other Asian kitchens.
Ginger is both old and new; ancient yet inventive, in the sense that this delightful plant with six to nine inch lemon-scented leaves and underground stems are eaten many ways including fresh, preserved, or dried. Origins of and stories about this plant, erroneously called both a tuber or a root, are not well known. Like tea, it has been taxed, loved, used for payment of tribute and bribe, and given birth to conquests and lies one more fanciful than another. One of the more famous of these is that ginger gives power over tigers making them as gentle to ride as a horse. Another that is true, is that Romans paid fifteen times more per pound for ginger than they did for black pepper. Now that is a sure sign of ginger's value to the Western world.
History and early use: Ginger, whose knarled segments are known as 'hands' or 'rares,' does grow best in hot, humid, and very rich soil. In China, it is grown extensively in all central and southern provinces, cultivated as an annual or as a perennial, and is very important in foods and medicines.
In the therapeutic sense, the Chinese believe that ginger helps those suffering from a lack of appetite, needing relief from coughing or help in conquering a cold, and for settling stomachs. Ginger is a strengthening or pu food that has long been used to maintain health. Confucius always had some ginger when he ate. He approved its use at meals and during periods of fasting or sacrificial worship when other pungent foods were prohibited.
After a woman has a child, she is thought to need strengthening and extra nourishment, Many Chinese, particularly those from the Kwangtung province, long-cook her a dish of several pounds of pigs feet, a pound or two of ginger, and a considerable amount of vinegar. The gelatinous mixture that results is quite tasty and thought to be especially restorative. It has lots of bioavailable calcium extracted from the pig's feet as it cooks. This is thanks to the bone and the vinegar.
Earliest references to ginger were in Chou times circa the 12th century BCE. Later, about the first century CE, it became known in Europe perhaps as fresh mature stems, but certainly dried, preserved, powdered, and as an essential oil. During the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 CE), written reports tell of ginger as medicine, tea, wine, flavoring for honey, and seasoning for meats.
Not all gingers are alike. There is shan chiang or mountain ginger that can be a Zinzibar moiga which is a true ginger of another species, or it can be an Alpinia, better known as a lesser or greater galangale. True ginger is botanically called Zingiber officinale. When used very young (See Flavor and Fortune's Volume 2(4) on pages 12 and 13) this underground rhizome is prized because it has very few fibers, a lovely thin purplish skin, and a wonderful taste. That way it is used plain or pickled with salt or vinegar. You may be familiar with it if you eat sushi. The ginger served with sushi is made from young ginger.
Current usage: Today, ginger is grown in many countries and on most continents. In the last fifty or so years, much preserved ginger has been exported from a cooperative in Australia. Begun in the 1940's, this group of commercial farmers flourish on the coast of Queensland; they grow and process it by the ton. They tout its health qualities, and its many uses.
In 1987, Royal Pacific Foods began exporting Buderim Ginger to the United States. Ten years later, they launched products called 'The Ginger People' and now, they have a web-site (www.gingerpeople.com) and a huge following in many fine stores such as William Sonoma and Dean and DeLuca. They published a book, Flavouring with Australian Ginger, thanks to the Reader's Digest of Australia. They say it might be adapted soon for the American market.
Evaluation of some manufactured ginger products: This fall we began taste-testing their candies. We also evaluated their sauce products and those of other manufacturers. Using a five-point scale, their Baker's Cut Ginger, Premium Cut Ginger, Ginger Chews, and Golden Ginger Herb Candy were evaluated (see the illustration of them in the hard copy of this issue). Most of these products were very fresh pieces of crystallized ginger kept soft and fresh in a can.
The cut pieces were universally loved, some more than others. Everyone loved the product called 'Premium Cut.' Three also adored the 'Bakers Cut,' one said that they were 'too sugary' while others found these small pieces did have 'a sharp aftertaste' or being 'a little bitter.' Everyone agreed that they would be great for baking as they removed the need to cut up the crystallized ginger. One person likened this to being able to purchase dates already cut for baking.
The one called 'candy' says on its can, that it is 'mild.' Maybe, but most of our twenty-one taste testers said otherwise. One person thought they had 'good ginger taste' and a 'little sweetness.' One said they 'needed more sugar' and another called these candies 'awful' after he spit his out.
The sauces brought on other differences of opinion. we tried them with meat, with meat and vegetables, and then again only with vegetables. Those tested, in alphabetical order, include: The Jade company's Ginger Glaze, Lee Kum Kee's Spicy Garlic Sauce, Memories of Kyoto's Ginger Sauce and Glaze, Royal Pacific's Ginger Peanut, Ginger Lemon Grass and their Ginger Lime, and Ginger Hickory cooking sauces, and San-J's Szechuan Hot and Spicy Sauce. These eight items were the only ones listing ginger on the label on shelves of several huge supermarkets, Chinese or otherwise, we visited in three American cities.
Two of them did not list ginger in their name, and everyone agreed that these two had no ginger taste. That may be appropriate for the San-J sauce as it listed ginger as the thirteenth ingredient. However, Lee Kum Kee's Spicy Ginger Sauce listed it as the fourteenth ingredient; it did have a mite of ginger flavor.
The Memories of Kyoto Ginger Sauce had almost no ginger taste though ginger was the fifth item ingredient listed by weight. It was not liked by any of the tasters. Jade's Ginger Glaze also listed ginger fifth, but that sauce was liked by everyone, half dozen of them commenting that more ginger would have been even better.
All the Pacific Foods sauces listed ginger as the third or fourth ingredient except for their Ginger Hickory product. Each of them had different intensities of ginger, Ginger Peanut the most intense and most preferred. Everyone 'liked it' or 'liked it very much.' Ginger Lime was preferred second but no one 'liked it very much.'
The Ginger Lemon Grass product was 'liked' by only one-quarter of the tasters, and the Hickory product 'disliked' by three times that number. Three called the Ginger Lime 'too oily' or words to that effect and two felt the same about the Ginger Lemon Grass sauce. The Ginger Peanut sauce is recommended by the manufacturer for dipping. That is interesting because not one of the tasters would choose to use it that way.
It is interesting to note that more than half of the taste-testers commented they missed the taste of fresh ginger. One person summed it up saying that "sauce mixes are inevitable because people are too lazy to measure, cook, or even think about what goes into a dish," but thankfully, she is not.
Should you want to learn more about ginger, try these and any other products with ginger in them. Read about ginger in cookbooks, on the web, and elsewhere. The most complete book about ginger is by Bruce Cost and called Ginger East to West. it is published by Aris Books in California, and we highly recommend this 1984 volume to you.
We also recommend using fresh ginger in the following recipes, adapted from the Encyclopedia of Chinese Cooking, Crown Publishers, 1970. Two of its authors, Wonona and Irving Chang are our test kitchen directors.
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