Key Ingredient

Eleanor Nakama-Mitsunaga

Ingredient of the week


We are fortunate to have an abundant, high-quality supply of fresh ginger. Ginger grown on the Big Island is considered among the finest in the world, large, meaty and packing just the right amount of heat to suit a long list of savory and sweet dishes.

The basics: Ginger, often called a root, is actually a rhizome, or a horizontal stem grown underground. The plant originated in Southeast Asia and is from the same family as galangal and turmeric. The rhizome is harvested at stages from young to mature, with the mature ginger allowed to dry. Ginger is gnarly looking with a tan exterior and fibrous, pale yellow meat. Young --or baby --ginger has a thin, translucent skin that is creamy and pinkish.

Although ginger is used all over the world in various forms, fresh ginger is a staple of Asian cuisine and is probably the most often-used flavoring ingredient. It may be used to balance flavors, to perk up bland dishes or subdue odors in seafood. Ginger is also used medicinally to aid in digestion and combat nausea and colds.

Selecting: Look for hard and heavy rhizomes with smooth, shiny skin. Avoid ginger that is wrinkled and dried out.

Storing: Ginger can be stored in a cool and dry area on the counter for a week or so. For longer storage, cover with a paper towel to absorb moisture and prevent molding and store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks. Ginger can also be frozen, either whole or chopped and placed in a plastic bag.

Use: Fresh ginger is used in everything from stir-fries to marinades. Peel outer skin off mature ginger (young ginger does not need peeling).

Ginger marries well with garlic and is often used in combination with garlic to flavor meats, poultry and seafood. Ginger can be sliced, chopped finely, grated or mashed into a paste with other seasonings. It can also be crystallized, pickled or dried and ground.

A simple dipping sauce of grated ginger and soy sauce drizzled over cold tofu typifies the spicy, refreshing flavor of fresh ginger.

Where to buy: Ginger is available year-round in supermarkets, farmers' markets, and Asian markets. Prices range from $1 to $2 a pound.

Eleanor Nakama-Mitsunaga is
a free-lance food writer. Contact her
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