Exploring The Flavors of Christmas--Ginger

Had I but a penny in the world, thou shouldst have it for gingerbread

— William Shakespeare
ginger root
ginger root
ginger plant
ginger plant

Merchants and Monarchs, Sages and Sheep

The story of this beautiful fragrant flowering plant, a luxurious tuberous perennial that spreads her fleshy roots underground to expand and propagate, begins as many of our tales about treasured herbs and spices--deep within the heart of India.

It is there that anthropologists have found remnants, tiny fragments of ginger root used 5,000 years ago; in the beginning, long before the written word, long before Man began to record his own history.

“Do not eat too much. Do not talk at meals. Do not take away the ginger.”

— Confucius

We know that ginger also grew in China; wise men in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic Indian systems viewed it as a healing gift from God. We also know that, from its origin to the present, ginger has been the world’s most widely cultivated herb.

Historians believe that by the 5th century, ginger was being transported in trade ships to what was then the far reaches of the Earth—Rome--where it was used both as a medicine and a flavoring agent. Ginger became a highly valued trade commodity. However, with the decline of the Roman Empire, this precious (and costly) herb almost fell from existence in Europe. Arab merchants stepped in and began to control the export of ginger from India, and they developed a new market in Africa where ginger proved to be a treatment for malaria and yellow fever.

Today ginger can be found anywhere, and for just a few dollars, but in the 13th century ginger was so highly valued that one pound cost the same as a whole live sheep.

OK, So What about the Monarch?

By medieval times ginger was being preserved and imported to England for use in sweets. A common use was “gingerbread.”

However, the gingerbread of that time bears little resemblance to the cake- or cookie-like treats that we enjoy today. It was more of a honey candy. It is said that Queen Elizabeth I of England originated the idea of forming gingerbread into the likeness of visiting dignitaries. The following recipe is from a 15th century English manuscript:

Could that be the  Earl of Leicester in the lower right-hand corner?
Could that be the Earl of Leicester in the lower right-hand corner?

"Gyngerbrede.--Take a quart of hony, & sethe it,& skeme it clene; take Safroun, pouder Pepir, & throw ther-on; take grayted Bred, & make it so chargeaunt that it wol be y-lechyd; then take pouder Canelle, & straw ther-on y-now; then make yt square, lyke as thou wolt leche yt; take when thou lechyst hyt, an caste Box leves a-bouyn, y-stykyd ther-on, on clowys. And if thou wolt haue it Red, coloure it with Saunderys y-now."

A rough translation (and a recipe that you can use today) is:

medieval gingerbread

  • 1 cup honey
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 ¾ cups finely ground, dry, unseasoned bread crumbs
  1. Place honey in the top of a double boiler and heat to simmering. Stir in spices and bread crumbs and mix thoroughly. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for 15 minutes. Remove from heat.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray lightly with non-stick cooking spray.
  3. Spread the breadcrumb-honey mixture onto the prepared pan and pat to about ½-inch thickness. Turn the pan over onto a clean work surface. Remove the parchment paper, and cut the gingerbread into small squares or diamond shapes. Decorate as desired (a piece of candy place on top of each piece or a dusting of powdered sugar is nice).

In the 16th century, the English replaced the breadcrumbs with flour, and added eggs and sweeteners, resulting in a lighter product. Much more like the gingerbread cookies we know and love today.

A wonderful recipe for today's gingerbread cookies was recently posted by the Food Network:

a gingerbread cookie recipe for today

The Many Forms of Ginger

  • Ground
  • Fresh (to be sliced, shredded, or pulverized)
  • Candied


But Wait, There's More!

Today ginger can be enjoyed (and used) is so many ways. While it is still relevant as a tonic, ginger is an aromatic, pungent, and spicy herb that lends a special flavor and zest to so many dishes—beverages, stir fries, desserts, and numerous fruit and vegetable dishes.

Please let me share a few recipes with you.

What is Ginger?

ginger blossom
ginger blossom

Ginger is a rhizome (plant that spreads via underground stems—think iris, asparagus, bamboo) in the same family that includes cardamom and turmeric.

Ginger can be grown indoors as a houseplant. In the landscape ginger requires moist, fertile, well-drained soil, and a shady area in USDA climate zones 9 through 12. In cooler climates it can be grown as an annual after the threat of frost has passed, and nighttime temperatures are above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

A Main Dish with Pork

Gingered Pork Tenderloin with Peanut Sauce

  • 1 pound pork tenderloin
  • 1 3-ounce package Ramen noodles, uncooked
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • red pepper flakes (a pinch to 1/2 teaspoon (according to your heat preference)
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger root
  • 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter (not natural)
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 cups fresh spinach, torn, washed, and drained
  • 1/4 cup sliced green onions
  1. Cut tenderloin into 1/4-inch thick slices, and then cut each slice in half.
  2. Cook noodles according to package directions, drain and reserve cooking water.
  3. Heat oil in large skillet over high heat; add pork, pepper flakes, and ginger.
  4. Cook and stir until pork is no longer pink, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove pork from pan and keep warm.
  5. Blend peanut butter, 1/2 cup reserved cooking water, and soy sauce; Pour into skillet; heat and stir over medium heat until heated. Add more cooking water if needed.
  6. Return pork to pan along with noodles and spinach. Toss to coat with sauce. Serve garnished with green onions.
  7. Makes 4 servings.

This has nothing to do with ginger, but I couldn't resist including this cutie.
This has nothing to do with ginger, but I couldn't resist including this cutie.

© 2015 Carb Diva

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Comments 9 comments

Carb Diva profile image

Carb Diva 12 months ago Author

Thank you Flourish - I hope your kitty enjoys the holidays as well. I LOVE orange kitties.


FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 12 months ago from USA

I love the inclusion of the ginger cat in a ginger recipe hub! I have my own ginger cat and this time of year make gingerbread men. That old fashioned recipe with bread crumbs made me glad I'm alive now and not then.


Carb Diva profile image

Carb Diva 12 months ago Author

Agustin - Thank you for visiting today. Yes, ginger has been valued for many centuries for its healing qualities.


liasagustin profile image

liasagustin 12 months ago from 2222 Fillmore St, Hollywood, Fl. 33020

Valuable article, delicious recipes. In my country the ginger is prized for its medicinal values.


Venkatachari M profile image

Venkatachari M 12 months ago from Hyderabad, India

No, I do not grow anything. I don't have any place. When I was living in a company quarter 25 years ago, I used to grow vegetables including potato and ginger for some years.

Now, I purchase it from the vegetable market each week along with vegetables. It is less than $2 per one kg. I get 250 grams and it lasts 10 days for 3 people. I like ginger very much. Thanks for enquiring, Carb.


Carb Diva profile image

Carb Diva 12 months ago Author

Venkatachari - I thought of you when I wrote this hub, assuming that ginger would be a part of in much of your cooking. Do you grow ginger or live near where it grows? I imagine that fields of ginger would be magnificent to see. Blessings to you as well my friend.


Carb Diva profile image

Carb Diva 12 months ago Author

And good morning to you Mr. Bill. I did "cloves" a few days ago. I have not recently seen another hub on ginger, but 'tis the season. You are funny--thanks for the compliment.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 12 months ago from Olympia, WA

I thought you just did one on ginger. Sheez, two people in a week writing about ginger? What are the odds? Well, yours is infinitely better, so there to the other person!!!!!


Venkatachari M profile image

Venkatachari M 12 months ago from Hyderabad, India

Wow! This is wonderful hub. Even though I use ginger daily in my curries and breakfast recipes, I do not know so much about ginger. You have provided me with a rich knowledge. Thanks for it, Carb. My blessings.

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