Candied Ginger Simplified:
The sweet-hot treat that's good for you
Ginger, Zingiber officinale, is a native plant of tropical Asia.
Gingerroot is the underground rhizome. The intense flavor of raw ginger,
used in many Oriental recipes, is too much for most of us. The pungent
taste comes from the same family of molecules (gingerols, related to capsaicin)
that cause the heat of chile peppers. When cooked or dried, some of the
gingerol is converted to two more sharp-tasting compounds, shogaols and
Mature gingerroot is dried and ground into powder to become the familiar
kitchen spice used in cookies, bread and other bakery goods.
Candied or crystallized young gingerroot has been a favorite confection
and recipe ingredient around the world for centuries, particularly in
India and Southeast Asia. Although somewhat time-consuming, it's a simple
thing to prepare. And by making your own, you avoid the chemicals added
to commercial crystallized ginger and reduce the cost substantially.
GINGER: Fresh gingerroot is readily available at your local supermarket.
Look for firm roots (avoid the shriveled ones) with good skin (no moldy
"eyes"). The younger roots are less likely to be fibrous so
don't pick the biggest rhizomes. If you select roots that have few small
nodules, they will be easier to prepare.
Peel the gingerroot or scrape off the skin. Some recipes say you just
need to scrub the roots well, but I always peel mine. Cut into slices
about ¼ inch thick. Although shape is just a personal preference,
it's important to keep the pieces a uniform thickness so that they will
all finish cooking at the same time. Put the ginger slices into a measuring
cup, pressing them down a bit. The amount of ginger you start with will
determine how much sweetener you need.
SWEETENER(S): Traditionally, granulated white sugar is used to
make candied ginger. However, you can try anything you'd like, alone or
in combination. My favorite is ½ maple sugar and ½ white
or brown sugar. Other possibilities are Sucanat (dried sugar cane juice),
date sugar, raw sugar, corn syrup, maple syrup, and honey. I've found
that syrup sweeteners tend to produce a stickier end product. There is
also some concern that heating honey, particularly for the long times
needed with crystallized ginger, creates toxic compounds and kills all
the beneficial enzymes.
You need at least one cup of sweetener per cup of sliced ginger. If you
use more, you will end up with more syrup at the end (which isn't necessarily
a bad thing, if you like the syrup as much as I do).
LEMON: Use a tablespoon or two of lemon juice or half a lemon,
sliced, peel and all (candied lemon is wonderful, by the way), per batch.
The addition of lemon is particularly important if using only one kind
of sweetener, especially if it is granulated white sugar, to help prevent
crystallization of the syrup.
WATER: You'll need at least enough water to cover the ginger, but
I start with about 1½ times the amount of sugar. Put the water
into a large pan. My favorite for this is a 2-quart Dutch oven with a
Add the sweetener(s) and the lemon to the water and heat to boiling, stirring
until all the sugar is dissolved. Add the sliced ginger and bring back
to a boil. Lower the heat to simmer and cover.
Some recipes pre-cook the ginger by boiling or steaming it before it is
added to the sugar solution. I don't see the purpose for this extra step.
But if you want to do it, steam or boil the ginger slices for 30 minutes
to an hour until tender. Cool. Use the ginger cooking water as part of
the sugar syrup (other recipes say throw it out, but that would be such
a shameful waste of wonderful ginger flavor).
COOKING: Raw ginger takes several hours to completely cook (I have
found that 5-6 hours is about average). For the first 3-4 hours, you won't
need to do anything. I like the glass lid because I can peek at the cooking
ginger occasionally without opening the pan. Sometimes I stir it, but
this isn't needed if you keep the heat very low.
During the last hour or two, your attention needs to be more focused.
You can test pieces of ginger (cool first). They should be tender and
almost translucent when finished. If the syrup is cooking down too fast,
add more water. If it isn't thick enough when the ginger tests nearly
done, take off the lid to cook the syrup down. As it gets thicker, the
syrup will tend to bubble up, especially with the lid on, even at very
low cooking temperatures, so be alert to avoid a mess on your stove (been
there, done that).
If for any reason you can't do all the cooking at one time, just take
the pot off the heat (with the lid on) and set it aside. Heat back to
boiling and lower to simmer to finish up when you can. Some popular crystallized
ginger recipes actually do this on purpose, cooking for 30 minutes to
an hour, then letting the mixture stand overnight (this is repeated for
four days). I've never done it this way myself.
I've seen other recipes that use a crockpot for the lengthy slow cooking.
I haven't tried it that way, but it's your ginger so go ahead if you want.
COOLING & DRYING: When the ginger is done, turn off the heat
and let the mixture cool for 15-30 minutes. I generally "fish"
the ginger pieces out of the syrup solution with a small fork or tongs.
However, you can just strain them out, too. Save the warm syrup in a glass
jar with tight lid for use on ice cream, pancakes/waffles, salads, yogurt,
drinks, etc. Ginger syrup is one of the best parts about making your own
Lay the ginger pieces on racks, screening, or directly on a cookie sheet
covered with wax paper or non-stick foil. I find that using racks helps
the ginger pieces dry out faster and more evenly.
Let the pieces dry at least overnight (I put the pan in a cold oven with
the light on for just a bit of heat). Most of the tackiness needs to be
gone before you proceed.
Don't expect your homemade candied ginger to be light yellow like commercial
crystallized ginger. Even if you use only white granulated sugar, your
finished ginger and syrup products will still be various shades of amber.
Sulfur compounds like sulfur dioxide are used commercially to retain the
light yellow color of the raw ginger.
FINISHING: Traditionally, candied ginger is rolled in granulated
white sugar. However, I have also used powdered sugar, Sucanat, date sugar,
and maple sugar. In fact, if you don't want the added sugar, you could
even try coating the ginger with arrowroot or carob powder.
Just put some of your chosen dry coating in a bowl and toss in the ginger,
a few pieces at a time. Put the coated pieces on a cookie sheet and let
dry again for at least a few hours. If the pieces absorb too much coating
and get sticky, just recoat them. When the pieces no longer adhere when
two are pressed together, they are ready to store in covered glass jars.
Another way to finish off candied ginger is to coat in chocolate. I use
bittersweet baking chocolate melted in a small double boiler pan. Keep
the chocolate warm and work quickly. Dip with a fork, tap off the excess,
and put the coated pieces on waxed paper or non-stick foil until hard
enough to store in a covered glass jar.
Candied ginger will last indefinitely at room temperature if stored in
tightly closed containers (my batches are usually consumed in less than
a month). Try chopping crystallized ginger into yogurt, salads, granola,
or eat it plain right out of the jar. You're going to love it!
The "officinale" in ginger's name shows the plant's past medicinal
status. Asian doctors regard it highly as a remedy for digestive troubles
as well as an overall tonic. If you ever reached for a ginger ale to ease
a tummy ache, your intuition was correct. It's well documented that ginger
relieves indigestion, nausea, colic, gas, heartburn, morning sickness,
and motion sickness. In addition, ginger seems to protect against ulcers,
has several actions against internal parasites, and may even ease acid
Old time healers also knew that ginger was good for coughs. Further, it
warms you when you are chilled and paradoxically, helps reduce a fever.
Ginger compresses relieve sore muscles, stomach cramps, and swollen glands.
Recently, much medical research, particularly in Europe and Japan, has
documented the therapeutic effects of the ginger rhizome, which contains
400+ compounds including enzymes and antioxidants. Some of the studies
showed how ginger mediates healing and immunity by reducing abnormal inflammation
and clotting. Also, ginger seems to have anti-cancer properties, blocking
carcinogens, and it tones the circulatory system, suggesting that it could
reduce heart disease. Finally, Danish research showed that long-term ginger
consumption might reduce arthritic conditions.
So, eat your ginger daily. It's good
and good for you.
Grow your own ginger
Although I haven't tried it, I've been told it's simple to grow ginger
in a greenhouse or indoors. It can even be grown successfully in the outdoor
garden where summers are hot and humid (much commercial ginger today comes
from Hawaii). Ginger, a perennial, likes fertile soil and partial shade,
but it won't tolerate high winds and cold.
To try growing your own, start with fresh roots from the grocery store.
Sprouts will grow from the "eyes" on the rhizome, similar to
potatoes. Plant with the eyes at the soil surface.
Ginger plants get huge 2-foot leaves and may reach 6 feet in height. The
flowers, produced in the summer, are yellow or white in a dense flower
spike up to 3 inches long.
Each year's growth adds to the size of the rhizome (like bleeding hearts
and dahlias). Plants can be cultivated by dividing the rhizomes in the
Preparing the ginger for cooking
Dry cooked ginger overnight on racks
Finished ginger: with powdered sugar, dark chocolate,
and granulated sugar
Home-made ginger (left) versus commercial candied ginger
All the ginger treats, including my favorite, ginger
syrup on ice cream!
I have many more illustrations available
Sources of ingredients
A good online source for a variety of reasonably priced sugars as well
as commercial crystallized ginger is http://www.bulkfoods.com.
If you aren't interested in making your own candied ginger and there
aren't any readily available retail outlets near you (look in Oriental
markets), try The Ginger People (http://www.gingerpeople.com).
Not only do they offer several types of crystallized ginger, but they
also have ginger candies, ginger sauces, and much more
reasonable prices with quick shipping.
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