A Guide To Ginger
Better Understanding Your Ingredients
A Brief History:
Outside of a Moscow Mule, the place the average person is most likely to encounter ginger is in the health and wellness aisle of their local grocery store or pharmacy. This should come as no surprise, since the use of ginger is a tonic to treat ailments and promote health dates back to nearly five thousand years ago when the Chinese first discovered its myriad benefits.
The first traders to explore China quickly saw the value of this humble plant, and it started making its way first to the Mediterranean, then through the gates of Ancient Rome. But just as a ‘rising tide raises all ships’, the popularity of ginger plummeted as Rome fell.
It wasn’t until Medieval Europe discovered ginger that its culinary capabilities were discovered: with countless kings and queens demanding their traders source this exotic plant for use in dishes as varied as rack of lamb, to after-dinner sweets.
By the time the Spaniards brought ginger to the Americas its fate was sealed as a valuable trading commodity not only for its medicinal qualities, but for its delectably spicy taste.
Though ginger is relatively hardy and can be grown in almost any climate, the bulk of mass-produced ginger on the global market originates in-and-around India and China. In the U.S., many health food stores tout the superiority of ginger grown closer to home, in the West Indies. In terms of flavor, it largely comes down to how arid the growing region is, with dryer climates producing a more pungent, concentrated flavor (this is commonly the case with most herbs and spices). For those truly looking to up their ginger game, product grown on the edges of the arid American Southwest are de rigueur in culinary circles due to their apparent superior flavor profile.
Ginger Preparations & Storage:
If you’re looking to use ‘fresh’ ginger in your next Mule recipe, it’s important to understand some subtle differences in its preparation, and how this affects taste. Dried ginger, which is most commonly found in a ground form, is much more pungent, flavorful, and peppery.
Fresh ginger, on the other hand, is most commonly used in cooking because the flavor is not only more subtle in terms of spiciness, but also has an herbaceous sweetness. So when mixing up Mules for guests, having both options* on hand is a great way to allow for a breadth of customization of flavor, depending on your guest’s palates.
*NOTE: for the extra-enthusiastic Mule drinker, head to your local specialty Asian grocery store or farmer’s market to source ‘spring ginger’, which has the freshness of mature ginger, but is concentrated enough before reaching maturity to pack a uniquely spicy punch!