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Spice Girl: Ginger Up

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By Lorette C. Luzajic

What could be more soothing and wholesome than ginger, that knotty rhizome that recalls Grandma’s arthritic hands? In your warm and fuzzy memory, Grandma fashioned lively, people-shaped cut-out cookies at Christmas, or poured a ginger ale and served it with a bent straw when you were sick with the flu.

Ginger’s stomach-soothing properties are widely documented through human history, a remedy Confucius insisted on partaking of at every meal. Gingerbread dates way back to the beginning of recorded history- Persian tales from 2400 BC extol its virtue. (It’s also lauded as an aphrodisiac in 1001 Arabian Nights.) It’s a dessert that helps digest a heavy meal. It was a favourite cookie of the first Queen Elizabeth: her medieval kitchen help fashioned elaborate Biblical scenes out of gingerbread, and made cookies to crudely resemble her guests- possibly the first gingerbread men. Indeed, from Czechoslovakia to Ukraine to Germany to Holland, intricately and elaborately molded decorative ginger cookies have been customary for centuries. There’s the gingerbread house, as well, the stuff, literally, of fairy tales. And ginger is a flavour so heavenly that the holy Koran promises ginger water to those who reach paradise.

But before you pop that spicy biscuit into your mouth, don’t you want to know what your kinky neighbours are doing with that ginger root?

Probably not, but I’ll mention it anyhow- just in case you’d lost hope in human creativity. Seems that the good ol’ rhizome was, er, the original butt plug. Yep, of all the garden delights that one could use to poke or prod another into ecstasy, the ginger root is revered in the bondage and discipline communities for its stinging and its zinging- a safe way to burn your booty, so they say. This practice even has a name- figging.

Now that you’ll never look at “ginger snaps” the same again, you need to know that this faintly icky sounding word derives from “feaguing,” also known as “gingering up.”  Once upon a time, in Francis Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, harkening back to 1811, the word meant, “to put ginger up a horse’s fundament…to make him carry himself well.” The idea was that the stinging pangs made the horse pull his tail up high and buck around in a more lively fashion. This helped older models appear more youthful during sales and trades. Apparently, the practice also extended to…live eels… please don’t try this at home!

So, it appears that ginger has a rather broad appeal, and indeed, it is one of the world’s most beloved spices. It likely originated around India and Asia, and by the time Jesus walked in Galilee, the Arab traders had saturated the Greek and Roman market- ginger was subject to customs taxes. The zippy root had moved into most of Europe by the ninth century, and by the Middle Ages, it was growing all over the world. While quite tasty preserved and powdered, fresh ginger’s lively bite was always preferable. So it was usually transported growing in pots, making replanting easy and feasible. By the time the fourteenth century rolled around, England considered ginger second only to pepper in its spice trade.

The taste is distinctive: there’s a formidable ‘snap’ of fresh ginger, then lingering heat, and an aftermath of tangy, almost lemony warmth that spreads over the palate following the first sharp notes. Considering how strong and volatile the flavour is, it’s strangely versatile: it’s essential in much baking, from Germany’s spicy pfeffernusse cookies to all-American pumpkin pie. It’s revered in between fishy bites to cleanse the palate of sushi flavours. It’s essential to Thai and Chinese cuisines. And it’s wildly popular in Caribbean and African food- and in Jamaica’s beloved ginger beer, similar to ginger ale, but this stuff bites back.

Ginger’s digestive properties are common knowledge in folklore and accepted in medical communities as well. It is one of the very few known and reliable methods of reducing nausea, one perfectly safe for baby (and miraculously effective) in treating morning sickness. For some, it’s far more effective for motion sickness than Gravol, and very reliable in treating symptoms of respiratory or stomach colds and flues.

So while Grandma probably had no idea that people were, um, horsing around with the stuff, she was absolutely right about using it for an upset stomach. While most ginger ale today has no active ginger, you can try the Jamaican’s ginger beer, or slice the good stuff fresh into some club soda.

Click here to read more Spice Girl columns, feature articles and blog entries by Lorette C. Luzajic.



Comments


Hi,
Well I just love Ginger.
Every morning I have two pices of toast [among other things] with sesamy oil, lots of ginger and cinnamin and a bit of honey. next to my bowl of yogurt.It is absolutely delicious and gives me a real good start for the day!
I grew up in the Netherlands and we ate gingerbread cookees etc. etc. I am still hooked on it and I also believe it is good for keeping ones bloodpressure at a healthy level.
Include ginger in your diet,Is my advise!
Sarie
Post Reply By Sarie on 11/21/2008 11:44:37 PM

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