Ginger may conjure images of fragrant gingersnaps, spiced apple pie, or other holiday desserts, but it has become a popular ingredient in the wellness world for its potential health benefits. Ginger is available in many forms, including powders, capsules, and as crystallized ginger. Crystallized ginger isn’t just a delicious treat — it’s also a great way to experience the potential health benefits of ginger for yourself.
The History of Ginger
Ginger has been used in cooking and to support health for thousands of years. The ginger plant, or zingiber officinalis, was originally cultivated in Southeast Asia and is a member of the same family as turmeric and cardamom. It is also widely grown in tropical regions of Africa like Sierra Leone and Nigeria, Latin America, Australia, and the Caribbean (particularly in Jamaica). Ginger has a long history of use in Asian cultures, where it was used as a cooking spice and to support health.
Ginger was first introduced to the Western Hemisphere in the first century AD, primarily via the spice trade that operated from Asia to Europe. Ginger was popular in the Roman Empire, both as a seasoning and as a health-supportive supplement, but it largely disappeared from common use in Western culture after the fall of the Roman Empire.
Ginger use resurfaced in the middle ages, particularly in England. During this time it was highly valued, and it is thought that in the 13th and 14th centuries a pound of ginger was equal to the price of a live sheep. As the ginger trade expanded, so did cultivation. Arab nations brought the crop to Africa, and it also spread to the western hemisphere. In 11th century Europe, ginger was added to drinks, made into pastes, and added to cooking meats. In the 15th century, ginger was the defining flavor of a new dessert supposedly invented by Queen Elizabeth I: the gingerbread man.Today, India is the largest producer of ginger, cultivating about 655,000 tons annually, followed by China, Nepal, Indonesia, and Thailand.
Ginger in the Modern World
Today, ginger is ubiquitous in grocery stores and natural health stores. It is still used in a number of practices to support health, such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Ayurvedic texts recommend ginger for joint health and to soothe the stomach, and it is also thought to support a healthy digestive system. It is thought to be particularly helpful for balancing the Vata dosha, since Vata types are associated with air, wind, and coolness and ginger is considered a warming spice. It is also believed to support circulatory system health.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, ginger is thought to spread warmth, so it’s often used to support digestive system health. The text Be Cao Jin Ji Zhu recommends ginger, as it may be potentially beneficial in “helping digestion, to strengthen the spleen and stop vomiting and nausea, also warm the stomach and to stop the stomach spasming from the coldness.” It is also thought to support your Qi and yang energy.
Characteristics of Ginger
Ginger plants grow to roughly 1.2m and the shoots (called pseudostems) are formed from overlapping leaf bases wrapped around each other, which branch off to form mid-green leaf blades. It produces flowering heads with short, cone-shaped spikes and pale yellow flowers with purplish edges. These plants are sometimes used in landscaping in subtropical areas. However, most plants are cultivated without the flowering stems, since the most popular part of the ginger plant is the root, or rhizome.
The distinctive ginger rhizome is thick, branched, and gnarled, and it occasionally resembles a swollen hand. The brown outer layer is usually removed to display the pale yellow center, which has a spicy, lemony scent. A younger rhizome will typically have a more juicy and fleshy texture and a milder flavor. The older rhizomes may have a drier and fibrous texture. 
Ginger’s characteristic fragrance and flavor is a result of several volatile oils, including zingerone, shogaol, and gingerol. Gingerol is the active component of ginger, and is a relative of capsaicin and piperine, which are the compounds that give spice to chili peppers and black peppers. When distilled, it forms sharply flavored yellow oil. Gingerol is also offers antioxidant support to protect cells from free radical damage. And may also support a healthy internal response. Cooking ginger causes the gingerol to transform into zingerone, which is a less pungent oil and has a moderately sweeter scent. When ginger is only mildly heated or dried, it results in a dehydration reaction that makes shogaols, which have a more intense aroma than gingerol. 
Why Take a Ginger Supplement?
Ginger supplements are some of the most popular herbal supplements today. Ginger is taken for a variety of reasons, including to support muscle and joint health, and for temporary relief of stomach issues associated with travel and pregnancy. Ginger also contains ingredients that may support healthy saliva production and promote digestive system health. Ginger is most commonly found in capsules, powders, and teas, although there are other options available as well.
One of the most common uses for ginger is as a way to soothe the stomach, especially during situations like travel-related sickness. There is evidence to suggest that ginger may have positive effects on nausea and vomiting. It is thought that ginger may inhibit the transmission of certain nerve impulses that may cause spasms of smooth muscles and result in an upset stomach. As a result, ginger is often taken as a natural alternative to offer temporary relief from nausea.
According to a 2016 study that examined the effects of ginger on nausea and vomiting, “The best available evidence demonstrates that ginger is an effective and inexpensive treatment for nausea and vomiting and is safe.”  Another study looked at the effects of ginger on seasickness among naval cadets, and it was found that “remarkably fewer symptoms of nausea and vertigo were reported after ginger root ingestion.”
Additionally, ginger is thought to soothe the stomachs of pregnant women in the first trimester, when nausea is common. In a 2014 study that examined the effects on ginger on first trimester nausea, it was discovered that “ginger was effective for the relief of mild to moderate nausea and vomiting in pregnant women at less than 16 weeks gestation.”  While many people may express doubt about taking ginger during pregnancy, studies have shown that “the use of ginger during pregnancy (1020 women, 1.5%) was not associated with an increased risk of congenital malformations, still birth/perinatal birth, low birth weight, or preterm births.” 
Ginger is also used to offer support for muscle and joint pain. In a study conducted by the University of Miami, participants with moderate-to-severe osteoarthritis were offered a twice-daily ginger supplement. According to researchers, “A highly purified and standardized ginger extract had a statistically significant effect on reducing symptoms of OA of the knee. This effect was moderate.”  While studies into ginger’s effect on joint health are ongoing, it seems as though ginger may have potential benefits in this area.
One of the more recent studies into ginger’s potential benefits has been an investigation of the effects of ginger on nausea related to chemotherapy. According to one study, about 70% of chemotherapy patients experience some kind of nausea during their treatment. In the study, 744 patients were given a placebo, .5g, 1.0g, or 1.5g ginger twice daily. The researchers concluded “Ginger supplementation at daily dose of 0.5g-1.0g significantly aids in reduction of the severity of acute chemotherapy-induced nausea in adult cancer patients.”
Potential Benefits of Ginger
Other Common Ginger Uses
What makes ginger so unique isn’t just its use in cultures to support health, it is also a common spice used to flavor foods and beverages around the world. From calming cups of ginger tea to spicy ginger candies, nearly every culture uses the spice in their cuisines.
For example, in Ayurveda, ginger is a common ingredient in masala chai and can also be found in some curries. In Japan, ginger is often pickled (in fact, you may have seen this kind of ginger when you order sushi) or found in candies, and it’s also an ingredient in Korean kimchi. China also has a long history of ginger use, and it is often brewed into tea or used to season meats. Ginger also forms a part of recipes in Burma, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, where it is added to drinks, soups, salads, and more.
Popular Dishes Around the World Containing Ginger
- Masala chai — a fragrant, spicy drink served hot or iced (India)
- Beni shoga — a pickled ginger and shoga no sato zuke, a ginger candy (Japan)
- Kimchi — a traditional dish made from fermented vegetables, particularly cabbage and radishes (Korea)
- Gyin-thot — a salad dish with shredded ginger in oil, nuts, and seeds (Burma)
- Wedang jahe — a beverage with ginger and palm sugar (Indonesia)
- Sorrel — a drink made during Christmas that contains hibiscus (the Caribbean)
- Tsitsibira — a type of ginger beer (Greece)
- Canton — a ginger liqueur (France)
In the US and Europe, ginger is found in holiday desserts like gingerbread, gingersnaps, and pumpkin pie. Of course, crystallized ginger is one of the most popular ways to consume ginger, and it’s easy to even easy to make on your own.
Making Your Own Crystallized Ginger
A combination of sweet and spicy, crystallized ginger makes a great addition to dishes, or can be consumed as a treat. Having crystallized ginger is also a great way to get the ginger you need if you don’t want to take a more traditional supplement. If you’re interested in making your own crystallized ginger, it can be easily accomplished. Make sure to choose a younger ginger rhizome that is firmer and not spongy, as this will be easier when you are crystallizing.
- 1 ½ cup water
- 1 ½ cups sugar, plus extra for dusting
- 1 cup peeled and sliced ginger
When slicing your ginger, you can slice it however you wish, although some popular options are strips, coins, or cubes.
- Combine water and 1 ½ cup sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Add ginger, reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes.
- Using a slotted spoon, transfer the ginger to a wire rack. It’s a good idea to set the rack over a dish or pan so your countertops don’t get sticky.
- Let stand until dry, and then roll the ginger pieces in the excess sugar.
You can store your ginger in an airtight container for up to three months.
Adding Crystallized Ginger to Your Diet
Besides being a great-tasting snack, crystallized ginger makes a great addition to recipes. You can serve it as a salad garnish (it’s especially good on Asian-inspired salads), or add it to a stir-fry. You can also chop crystallized ginger and add it to your favorite cookie, bread, or cake recipe. It also makes a great-tasting topping for apple pies, and can be dipped in chocolate for a sweet and savory treat.
Other ways of serving crystallized ginger include adding it to cranberry sauce, adding it as an ingredient to rice or meat dishes, and melting it to create a spicy glaze. You can also make a simple ginger tea by steeping crystallized ginger for a few minutes in a cup of hot water. You won’t even need to add sugar to this spicy herbal tea, as the sugar from the crystallized ginger will automatically dissolve.
If you’re looking to experience the potential health benefits of crystallized ginger for yourself, you can purchase it here at Natural Healthy Concepts, or try your hand at making your own. Whatever you choose, learning more about the potential health benefits of ginger may convince you to add this spicy plant to your diet.