Sunday, 27 November 2011

A Healthy Return, Ginger In Winter & The Rise Of Alcoholic Ginger Beer

Last Monday the Sri Lankan president made another call for the country to become self-sufficient in ginger whilst delivering his 2012 budget to parliament. His vision of "food security" follows an earlier government initiative which offered fertiliser subsidies to ginger farmers.

Back in June I wrote about the Fijian government's plan to offer squatters the opportunity to become ginger farmers. For one community of 25 ex-squatter families, they have just learned of the projected return from next March's harvest - $40,000. The families were previously squatting on the Jittu Estate, a district of the capital Suva known for its links to crime and unemployment. They relocated to Lomaivuna, an area known for its ginger farming, in July last year as the first beneficiaries of the Lomaivuna Integrated Agriculture Rehabilitation programme. Here they planted five acres each of ginger, cassava and dalo. It is hoped that soon the families will move to another 90 acres of farmland in nearby Vanuakula. You can read more about this story in the following two Fiji Times articles "40K from ginger sales" and "Squatters progress under farming scheme".

It's been a quiet week on the Crabbie's front. The only thing I found was a press release stating that the drink was being exported to Australia but I had already mentioned that three weeks ago. I expect another company announcement this coming week. Why? Because we didn't have one last week!

I found an interesting statistic the other day on the Waitrose Media Centre site. Waitrose, for those of you who don't know, is an upmarket supermarket chain and the sixth largest grocery retailer in the UK. We've known for a while about the rapid rise in alcoholic ginger beer sales in the UK but I was astounded to read that sales of this type of drink increased by 380pc during 2010 in Waitrose stores. I wouldn't be surprised if the Crabbie's launch the previous year had a lot to do with it.

Unfortunately there have been more suicides amongst ginger farmers in the Indian state of Kerala. A common feature of this crisis seems to be a demand for the farmers to make a loan repayment at the same time as the market price for ginger has plummeted. The fact that rubber farmers further south are still receiving a good price for their product and are exhibiting a lower suicide rate might lend credence, in some people's eyes, to the loan argument. This crisis has now developed enough for a difference of opinion to emerge between the state government and the main opposition party. I'm not going to get involved in that. But I will ask that help, whether from the state, charities or farming organisations, be given to the poor widows who must now contend with managing the business as well running the family home and, of course, grieving.

The Times Of India had a short article extolling the virtues of consuming ginger in winter. I cannot confirm the efficacy of ginger on health but there must be something in it if it has been used for centuries.

Here is a Christmas gift suggestion (and I'm not hinting for me unless you really want to) - The King's Ginger Truffles from Charbonnel et Walker. I will say that I don't earn any commission from this suggestion. In fact, I've never even tried the truffles. But, as I've mentioned before, I do like the drink.

And to finish I think that I may well start a regular section containing the latest ginger products to appear on the market. Last week saw the arrival of a ginger- flavoured Cactus Jack's Schnapps and a white stilton with chocolate and ginger from Long Clawson.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Busy Week For UK Ginger Beer, Flooding, Increased Exports & Boozy Award

It has been a busy week for British alcoholic ginger beers. It started with Ginger Joe making its TV debut (see below) with a spoof moustache advert. This was followed by the launch of this year's Crabbie's Christmas TV advertising campaign featuring the popular retro duo George and Camilla. I cannot find a YouTube video for Crabbie's so in the interest of fair play I will offer a link to the Crabbie's TV advert page. And later in the week it was announced that Scottish brewer Williams Brothers has started exporting its alcoholic ginger beer to Australia.

I've mentioned before about how the weather can have a devasting effect on farming businesses. Fresh Plaza reported last week on the plight of farmers in Thailand after 740,000 acres of farmland succumbed to flooding. The forthcoming harvest of ginger will be unaffected as the growing region escaped the floods. Not so lucky are ginger farmers in Taitung County in eastern Taiwan who have suffered extensive damage following 400mm (15.75 inches) of rain in two days. Farmers here are hoping that the central government will activate its compensation scheme.

Continuing last week's story about the spate of suicides in the ginger farming community in the Indian state of Kerala, reports are emerging which seem to indicate that it was the fall in the price of ginger which was the primary contributing factor. By early last week the number of suicides had, sadly, increased to seven. Before the current growing season started, ginger fetched Rs 2,500 per 60kg bag. Then Nepalese ginger reached the Indian market causing the domestic price to plummet to Rs 500, an 80pc fall. Unfortunately, the farmers had to borrow their start-up funds from money lenders and micro-finance institutions as the banks would not advance them loans. With an input cost per acre of Rs 250,000, a harvest yielding less than Rs 150,000 per acre and an interest rate on the loans as high as 24pc, it is not difficult to see why ginger farmers are facing considerable hardship.

These figures seem awfully high when you consider that the total value of Indian ginger exported to Pakistan in the last financial year was Rs320 million.

The Spices Board of India has released its export figures for the April-September half year and it shows that India exported 8,000 tonnes of ginger, a rise of 44pc compared to the same period last year. The value of these exports increased by 151pc to Rs 90.02 crores (Rs 900.2 million).

Congratulations to Boozy Infusions for winning Best Drink at this year’s deliciouslyorkshire food and drink awards for its Jamaica Ginger Cake Infusion liqueur. I'm intrigued to find out more about this unusual drink which has been described as having a 'knockout aroma'.

Well, I managed to buy a couple of packets of the limited edition Dorset Cereals gingerbread porridge after visiting the only stockist in my area three times in four days. I haven't tried it yet so it had better be good.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Cooperatives, Cricket Fighting, Aromatherapy & Virginian Grown

I've been reading a report about a biosecurity meeting between Fiji and Australia which was held , I assume, quite recently. One of the items on the agenda was an update on Fiji's request to export fresh ginger to Australia. Unfortunately I am not aware of the outcome of the discussions but what I did learn was that ginger is not in the top two agricultural products grown in Fiji. The top two positions go to sugar followed by taro. The report quoted the Fijian agriculture minister, Colonel Mason Smith, as saying "Fiji’s ginger is renowned for its unique flavour and has the potential to become one of the country’s leading agricultural exports".

Today I shall be attempting to find a box of the limited edition gingerbread porridge from Dorset Cereals. I'll let you know if I find some and what it tastes like.

The Shanghai Daily reported last week that the previously fluctuating price of Chinese ginger has now returned to its normal level following three interest rate rises so far this year. Another report, this time from Shandong, said that Chinese ginger farmers are so concerned about the prospect of future price fluctuations that they are joining forces with ginger processing companies to form cooperatives. These cooperatives will offer farmers contracts at competitive prices to hedge against potential losses.

Still in China and an article in the Indian Express with the headline "A game of cricket in China". I must admit that I read the article because I was intrigued to find out who was actually playing cricket (the sound of leather on willow, polite clapping and a lush green vista) in China. I was surprised to find that the article was all about crickets, the insects, and the rapid rise in popularity of cricket fighting. I learnt a little about a disappointing fighter by the name of Big Red Belly and his strict liver, tofu and ginger diet. I'm sure his lack of success had nothing to do with the ginger.

A novel approach to calming passengers' pre-flight nerves has been unveiled at Domodedovo Airport in Moscow. Four different aroma schemes will be dispersed around the airport complex through the ventilation system. The schemes will include a variety of extracts from plants such as vanilla, jasmine, lavender and ginger. This really is aromatherapy on a big scale.

It is always interesting to read about people who have just embarked on a ginger farming career, particularly in areas not traditionally known for producing the crop. Last week I read about Charlie and Miriam Maloney who have just harvested their first baby ginger crop from their farm in Virginia, USA. Although planted initially in a heated environment the ginger plants spend most of their time growing in unheated high tunnels. Officially this is only a trial but the early indications are that this will be a success. The trial is a collaboration between the farmers and Virginia State University with funding from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Baby ginger seems to be very popular in the USA for its tender quality. The Los Angeles-based ginger ale company, Reed's, uses baby ginger extensively in their ginger products.

The ginger farming community in the Indian state of Kerala is trying to come to terms with the news that three farmers have committed suicide in unconnected incidents in the last week or so. It has been said that each farmer had been affected by an inability to repay loans following a fall in the price of ginger. There is a sense of deja vu here as this happened in the same state in early 2000. Unfortunately, and possibly worryingly, many more ginger farmers could find themselves in a similar position of being unable to service a debt. So what has caused this situation this time? A shortage of ginger last year resulted in higher prices which, in turn, encouraged more farmers to start growing the crop this year. But the increase in the number of ginger farmers has now led to a shortage of land which has forced up the cost of both land and land leasing. In most cases farmers will have taken out loans to either buy or lease land. These farmers are now finding it difficult to repay their loans. The Keralan state government has responded by sending a team to the Wayanad district, where the suicides occurred, to investigate and compile a report.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Keep Warm In Winter, Crabbie's Down Under & Flavoured Sausages

Hotlips Pizza is rapidly making a name for itself in the USA for its all-natural carbonated beverages. The Oregon-based business was last year named 'Best New Carbonated Beverage' by Bevnet for its fruity sodas. In an interview last week with Oregon Live, joint owner David Yudkin was asked whether the company was still experimenting with flavours. He replied that their most recent experiment was habanero ginger ale which was delicious but people could only drink about 10 ounces (1.25 cups?) of it. If you are reading this Hotlips, don't give up with this flavour.

Now that we in the northern hemisphere are heading into winter should we not take notice of the advice provided by the Japanese government. Each autumn, the government launch an energy-saving campaign called Warm Biz. The campaign advises on expected topics such as temperature settings and warm clothing. But it also advises on eating root vegetables and ginger to help "warm the body". So when the weather forecasters predict a cold snap go and buy some ginger.

Halewood International has announced a distribution deal which will see Crabbie's Alcoholic Ginger Beer become widely available in Australia. The brand will be stocked by one of the country's largest off-trade retailers, Woolworth's. I don't know whether the deal covers the non-alcoholic John Crabbie’s Cloudy Ginger Beer which, if it does, would put it in direct competition with Bundaberg Ginger Beer. Bundaberg products are already on sale in the UK.

Still with Crabbie's, their Alcoholic Ginger Beer has been announced as the sponsor of Christmas programming on ITV, the UK’s major commercial public service TV network. The sponsorship will feature the increasingly popular George and Camilla, the 'Tickety Boo' couple.

The Jamaican government's official policy of growing more food and reducing the volume of imports has resulted in the spread of greenhouse technology. The Miami Herald reported on the benefits of growing a range of crops, including ginger, under glass. Researchers have found that the quality of greenhouse-grown ginger is just as good as traditionally outdoor-grown ginger but with the added benefit of being protected against adverse weather conditions.

Further to my post a month ago regarding Ford's new Ginger Ale colour, I've now discovered from a number of sites that the colour was "inspired by metallic running pants and Balinese idol paints". I don't know what it means either.

I do like to look for novel and inventive uses of ginger and so my attention was drawn last week to the online UK meat trades journal It contained an article about a Yorkshire quality food provider, Keelham Farm Shop, which has brought out a range of pork sausages, and you can't beat a good pork sausage, to celebrate British Sausage Week. One of these sausages, I was pleased to read, is honey and ginger. Now, I know that ginger sausages are not entirely new but they are still relatively rare, or so I thought. A quick five minute search of the Internet revealed a number of award-winning ginger sausages from earlier this year. The UK National Meat Products Competition awarded a gold medal to Greenfield Pork Products for its Pork, Pear & Ginger speciality sausage. It also awarded silver medals to both the Welsh Sausage Company and Chalcroft Farm Shop for their Pork, Ginger & Spring Onion speciality sausages. If you've never tried flavoured pork sausages (and it doesn't have to be ginger), you don't know what you're missing.

Unless I've made a mistake, I thought that last week's launch of Crabbie's Spiced Orange had already happened a month ago.

You may have noticed that I've mentioned Crabbie's a number of times since this blog was launched. I feel that I ought to state that I am not employed by and have never received any payment from Crabbie's. I shall continue to cover Crabbie's when the need arises as I consider the company to be the standard-bearer for ginger products, in the UK at least.