23 January 2010

From the archive: Candying Ginger

Candying Ginger
Sayyeda Samia al-Kaslaania
Julia May Copyright 2007

Ginger has been known since ancient times for its use as a culinary spice and medicinal herb. It has been cultivated for so long that it no longer propagates from seed, and has been found in so many places that its region of origin is unknown. Typically called ginger root, it’s actually the tubers of the ginger plant, zingiber officinale. In the late Roman Empire it was one of the cheapest spices available, a pound of it costing only 3 days wages for the average worker.[i]

Ginger is identified modernly as a pumpkin pie spice to most US American pallets. Those with a more adventurous gastronomy will recognize the much more spicy appearance of ginger in Thai cooking, and as a pickled accompaniment to sushi. It is a hot spice, sometimes compared to the capsaicin of hot peppers, however, gingerols, the natural compound that makes ginger spicy has a similar structure to capsaicin but functions differently in the body.[ii]

For centuries, cultures have considered ginger a natural remedy for gastrointestinal disorders and general pain.[iii] Modern studies have borne this out as the gingerols compound acts as a natural pain reliever (COX-1 and COX-2 inhibitor).[iv] Studies have also found that ginger acts as an anti-nausea, better than commercial travel products.[v]

In grocery stores, candied ginger can go for $3 per ounce! Making candied or crystallized ginger at home is easy, not very messy and provides enough to share with friends. Ginger “root” can be found in the produce section of many grocery stores. Select one or two “hands” of ginger with golden papery skin that is plump, smooth and glossy. Avoid wrinkled or dessicated hands. The candying process takes a few days, but is low maintenance.

1. Remove and discard any dried exposed ends of the hand.
2. Wash, then peel the ginger with a vegetable peeler, breaking off the fingers as necessary to facility peeling. (Avoid touching the eyes and other sensitive body parts before a thorough hand washing.)
3. Slice across the grain to create pieces a little less than a ¼” thick. Cut up all the useable bits of fingers in the same manner.
4. Select a pot with a lid about twice the volume of your ginger and place all of the sliced ginger inside. Add enough water to cover and about half as much sugar or honey (different sugars and single source honeys produce different flavors). Stir to dissolve the sweetener.
5. Heat, uncovered, until it boils, stirring frequently.
6. Allow to boil for 3-5 minutes, cover and remove from the heat. 
7. Once it cools, or overnight, repeat steps 5 and 6 three to four more times, adding water as necessary to keep it from burning. Do this until the pieces become translucent, letting the water level get a little lower as the ginger pieces get closer to translucent. Let cool enough to handle.
8. Place wire racks over wax paper. Put sugar (any variety, but the grains should be the size of table sugar) in a bowl. Pick out the individual pieces of ginger from the syrup, wiping off the excess on the side of the pot. Dredge them in the sugar and let dry on the wire racks over night or longer. Package in glass jars or plastic containers. It last for a few weeks.
9. Reserve the remaining syrup for another use. Suggestions include: Slathering on hot biscuits, making ginger ale, adding to pear cordial, or drizzling on ice cream.

Remember to warn the uninitiated-- who often think of ginger as that pumpkin pie spice-- of the intense heat of ginger. You might also try candying galangal, a cousin to ginger and fellow popular period spice in the Mediterranean. Enjoy!

[i] Dalby, Andrew. Dangerous Tastes: The Story of Spices. U of California Press: Berkley. 2000.
[ii] Kingsley, Danny. Ginger has painkilling properties: research. Internet website accessed 2/27/07. http://www.abc.net.au/science/news/health/HealthRepublish_433324.htm
[iii] Keville, Kathy. Herbs: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Freedman/Fairfax: New York. 1994.
[iv] Kingsley.
[v] Keville.

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