Juicy, spicy ginger is such a versatile ingredient—equally at home in curries, cookies, soups, and smoothies. It even makes a soothing tea when popped into a mug of hot water. But where ginger really shines is in the apothecary’s kitchen, says owner of popular London tonic company Jamu Kitchen Tanita de Ruijt in her new book, Tonic.
“The name ginger actually applies to a whole family of roots, which come in a variety of shapes and colors, with different flavors and benefits,” she says. “A remarkable number of different tonics are made using various combinations of basic gingers.”
You likely recognize mature ginger, which has light brown skin and creamy yellow flesh, or bright yellow turmeric (and its staining potential). But there’s also galangal, a third, lesser-known variety, which originated in China and tends to be more aromatic. Below, de Ruijt explains the benefits of each kind:
Fresh turmeric roots look similar to ginger and, like ginger, fresh roots have a zingier flavor than dried. Turmeric’s bright orange flesh tastes earthy, citrusy, peppery, and slightly bitter. Ground turmeric is made by peeling, boiling, drying, and grinding the roots. It loses some of its essential oils and pungency during these processes, but it will still provide a lot of warmth and color for meals. For the best flavor and medicinal qualities, stick to fresh. A great way to store fresh turmeric (and fresh ginger and galangal) is in the freezer. Pull out a piece when you need one. It needs to thaw for only a few minutes before it is ready to slice.
In preparation, rinse roots thoroughly, leaving the skin on, as there’s plenty of good stuff in there, too. Grind into a paste, as needed, using a Microplane grater, mortar and pestle, or blender. Grinding is the key to maximizing surface area and getting the most nutritional potential out of your roots.
The best-known member of the family: primarily for its flavor, but also for protecting and promoting a healthy digestive system. It’s one of the oldest medicinal plants used in Chinese, Ayurvedic, and Indonesian medicine. According to these systems, ginger warms the body, eases nausea, revs up the appetite and digestion, helps ward off any aches and pains, and restores strength to those suffering from illness.
In preparation, the skin can be left on, as long as it has been rinsed properly.
The lesser-known member of the ginger pack, galangal root is more aromatic than its cousins. Galangal’s origins can be traced back to Hainan in China, where it has been used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine. It shares several healing properties with ginger, such as warming the body, aiding digestion, and preventing nausea.
What’s your favorite type of ginger? How do you use it? Share your spicy tips below!