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In addition to having a sharp, slightly sweet flavor, fresh ginger is good for you

As a kid, did you ever see those strange looking gnarly ginger roots and wonder why anyone would want to eat or use them in cooking. Little did I know how healthy they are.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a warming spice and comes from the same family as cardamom and turmeric. The history of Ginger goes back over 5,000 years when ancient Indians and Chinese considered it a tonic root for all ailments.

While ginger originated in Southeast Asia, it has a long history of being cultivated in other countries. At an early date it was exported to ancient Rome from India.

It was used extensively by the Romans, but almost disappeared from the pantry when the Roman Empire fell. After the end of the Roman Empire, the Arabs took control of the spice trade from the east.

It also became a popular spice in the Caribbean where it could be easily grown. Today ginger is grown throughout the tropics.

So why all the hub-bub on health? My mom would always use the powered ginger in cooking and just say it was good for you.

She used it in preparing meals: oatmeal, cookies, soups and stews just to name a few of the items I knew about. In fact, she probably put it in everything and didn’t tell us. She was good about that.

Some of the health benefits of ginger:

• Stimulates digestion.

• Naturally freshens breath.

• Relieves nausea, including dizziness from motion sickness.

• Helps lower cholesterol.

• Soothes common cold symptoms, including respiratory infections.

• Relieves headaches.

Fresh ginger is better than powdered. Fresh ginger has a sharp, slightly sweet flavor that differs from the powder form. When buying ginger, find roots that are firm and has a smooth skin. Try to avoid ginger with wrinkled skin, soft spots, or any mold.

It should feel as hard as a fresh, uncooked beet. If the flesh gives even as much as that of a garlic clove, it is not fresh. This means that is has virtually no flavor or health benefits. Just like root vegetables, rhizomes like ginger will sprout. If your ginger begins to sprout, you should not use it.

When you buy it, peel all of the ginger, wrap it in plastic and freeze until you are ready to use. This helps it retain most of its freshness but is much easier to slice and grate when it is frozen.

I use ground ginger in my recipes if I don’t have the fresh. Ground ginger has a more concentrated flavor than fresh ginger. Substitute the ground ginger for fresh ginger root cautiously because it can greatly alter the flavor of a dish. Replace 1/8 teaspoon of ground ginger for 1 tablespoon of fresh ginger in recipes.

Fresh Ginger Glazed Carrots Makes 10 servings 3 pounds carrots or enough to serve 10 About 4 tablespoon butter 1/4 to 1/2 cups sugar 1 tablespoon fresh, very finely grated ginger 2 tablespoons brandy or vermouth

To prepare: Wash and pare carrots. Cut into 1-inch slanted chunks. Simmer carrots in a large skillet, in a small amount of water until just tender. Drain carrots. Add butter to skillet. When melted butter is melted, sprinkle sugar and ginger over carrots. Add brandy. Heat slowly until carrots are well glazed.

Donna Cook is the owner of Rabbit Creek Gourmet Foods in Louisburg, Kan. She is also a Master Gardener, Master Food Volunteer and on the board of directors of the Home Baking Association.
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