A very abbreviated version of this article was accepted for publication in the April/May 2005 issue of Mother Earth News, in the countryLore column. The title was simply "Candied Ginger."

Candied Ginger Simplified:
The sweet-hot treat that's good for you

Introduction
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 zingibrene.
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.

Recipe
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 glass lid.
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 candied ginger!
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!


Nutritional Information
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 reflux.
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 spring.

Photo Illustrations

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 … all at reasonable prices with quick shipping.


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