Monday, 26 December 2011

Gingerbread Ale, Migraine Relief & Molecular Gastronomy

Every now and then a picture comes along that catches my eye. Invariably, I can't explain why but there is always something about it that I find fascinating. And so it was last week that I came across a giant gingerbread man on a poster for Dough Head Gingerbread Ale from the Vancouver Island Brewery in Victoria, British Columbia. Unfortunately, this limited edition seasonal beer has only been brewed for the Christmas period. Brewer Chris Graham has used ginger, clove and cinnamon to create a beer which tastes and smells like a gingerbread cookie. Although most of us will never taste the beer, at least we will have the poster to look at (I'm sure the brewery won't mind).

As the end of the year is almost upon us, we can reveal the most searched for ginger story on Google in 2011. It was back in June that Reuters, and a number of other sources, reported the encouraging findings that a homeopathic preparation of ginger and feverfew may provide some pain relief for migraine sufferers. According to Wikipedia, migraines affect more than 10pc of people worldwide so it's not surprising that this story was so popular.

I imagine that Australian ginger farmers are having their best Christmas in a number of years. The Gympie Times reported the good news that after two years of suffering from persistent rain and pythium root rot, the farmers, with the assistance of Buderim Ginger, now seem to be heading in the right direction with fresh seed stock, new land and the promise of a 21pc pay rise.

Did you know that ginger beer is said to be the Christmas beverage in Trinidad and Tobago?

Traditionally, December is the time of year for unusual and quirky articles. Well, it is in the UK at least (see New Scientist for a classic example). That 'international weekly journal of science',, recently carried an article about a Cambridge theoretical physicist, Sebatian Ahnert, who also happens to be an amateur molecular gastronomist. It was in this latter capacity that he published the initial results of research into the matching of flavour molecules in recipes from around the world. Ahnert began the research after becoming intrigued by the anecdotal suggestion that some foods go well together because they contain the same flavour molecules. Apparently, that is why caviar and white chocolate can be served together but only in North America and Western Europe. You wouldn't find this combination in Latin American, Southern European or East Asian cuisine. The Cambridge team found that some common ingredients in North American cooking - milk, butter, cocoa, vanilla, cream & eggs, for example - share flavour compounds with many other foods. But some common ingredients in East Asian cooking - ginger, beef, pork, cayenne, chicken & onion - shared the least flavour compounds. I've been brought up on traditional English fare but I have found myself moving towards the delights of Italian cuisine. This could explain why I find most dishes by Heston Blumenthal (probably the world's most famous molecular gastronomist) so unappealing. If you are still uncertain about which of these two groups you belong to, consider the next flavour combination which Ahnert is keen to try - coffee and garlic!

I shall sign off now by wishing you all a very happy and prosperous New Year.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Ginger Xmas Hit, Winter Beer Festival, Ginger Wine & Increased Earnings

I was extremely pleased to read in the Daily Mail last week that ginger is the big success story in the UK's food and drink sectors this Christmas. The Mail quoted a recent statistic that exports of root ginger from India, the source of the cheapest good quality ginger, have gone up by 76pc year on year. I think that the implication was that UK ginger food and drink products use Indian ginger rather than, say, Chinese ginger which has a strong presence in the UK. My feeling is that Chinese ginger is popular in its raw form for domestic consumption but Indian ginger is preferred for manufactured products.

It's only a month until the 2012 National Winter Ales Festival at the Sheridan Suite in Manchester. The festival, according to CAMRA, will feature over 300 real ales, foreign beers, ciders and perries. The British draft beers category should contain a number of beers with ginger. The 1648 Brewing Co from near Lewes in East Sussex will supply Ginger No.1, a blend of smoked malt and root ginger. The Beartown Brewery from Congleton in Cheshire will supply a blonde ale called Ginger Bear. The Marble brewery from Manchester will be supplying a beer that I know absolutely nothing about. Finally, Robinsons from Stockport will present its famous Ginger Tom, a speciality strong ale brewed with Chinese bruised ginger root.

I discovered on the 1648 website that the Ginger No.1 beer was originally called Ginger Nol. But why Ginger Nol? (I often ask that about many beer names). Well, Oliver Cromwell had red hair and his nickname was "Old Nol". Nol is an old word meaning lump or stump which can be loosely translated as head. Hence we have Ginger Nol! The brewery had to change the name as people insisted on calling it Ginger No.1.

The Times of India reported on Christmas in Nagpur, the largest city in central India and the third largest city in the state of Maharashtra. It mentioned that as winters are cold, ginger wine is very popular because "it creates heat in the body and soothes the throat". The average low temperature for the city is 12C (54F) which, to me, doesn't seem that low but when you have a peak average high of 42C (108F), I would probably find 12C a touch chilly. I also learned that although Mumbai is the state capital, Nagpur is the winter and auxiliary capital. I can't find out why the state needs a winter capital; does anyone know?

JustLuxe, an online affluent lifestyle guide, featured Elixir G, the world's only liquid ginger mix. The Los Angeles-based drink can be used in cocktails, salads and desserts. I was drawn to the article by the paragraph describing the selection and production process. The best ginger root in the world, according to the drink's creator Bill Tocantins, is sourced from a number of countries including Thailand, Brazil and India. Ginger root extract is combined with lemon juice and pure cane sugar to produce a natural drink with no preservatives, chemicals or dyes. I've no idea how you get hold of it.

There has been a surprise development in the sad story of the ginger farmer suicides in the state of Kerala in India. IBNLive has reported that farmers from Wayanad, the epicentre of the crisis, are leasing land in the neighbouring state of Karnataka for next September in the hope that the price of ginger will rise. Another IBNLive report stated that a report on the ginger farmer migration will be submitted to the Keralan state government. An IPS story on the same subject has said that the agrarian crisis is severe. A researcher in agrarian distress told IPS that there "was a huge gap between income earned from agriculture and the input costs incurred by farmers".

After reading about the crisis caused by the drop in the price of ginger, it was strange to read about the big increase in earnings from Indian ginger exports in the first seven months of this fiscal year. Earnings more than doubled from Rs 43.47 crore (434,700,000) to Rs 105.42 crore (1,054,200,000).

And finally, what are ginger infused hot towels? I've noticed that a number of health clubs, spas and beauty salons offer this ginger steam towel treatment but, to be honest, I've no idea what it does apart from opening and cleansing the pores. Let me know if you have had this treatment or recommend it. What does the ginger do?

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Hangover Remedy, Keeping Warm, Gingerbread Houses, Wassail & Toothache

I've mentioned before about the benefit of drinking ginger tea or infusion to reduce the effects of a hangover. Adelaide Now has now also advocated ginger as one of three natural hangover remedies for the forthcoming party season. It states that "It’s soothing for the digestive tract and helps relieve nausea. Try chilled ginger tea with lemon or add fresh ginger to a vegie juice." The only problem I had with the article was the comment that the warm weather in South Australia is well and truly here. I feel really envious especially as I had to scrape frost of my windscreen early this morning! Anyway, I hope that I don't have to give it a try.

Last week The Korea Herald carried an article about traditional Korean medicine in which a lecturer at Pusan National University’s School of Korean Medicine claims that drinking ginger tea in the winter "warms the body". I don't know much about Korea (both north and south) apart from what I learned from watching MASH on television. It seems that winter in North Korea can be quite nippy so the lecurer may be on to something. Maybe I should have had a ginger tea before removing the frost this morning.

Building gingerbread houses is a very popular activity in the USA. There doesn't seem to be a week without a town or city somewhere hosting a gingerbread competition or exhibition. Yesterday it was Houston's turn with its third annual Gingerbread Build-Off. This competition, to quote the Houston Business Journal, "tests the skills of teams of local architects, designers, bakers and gingerbread enthusiasts who come together to design and build a unique cookie sculpture." Hopefully I will be able to share the results with you next week. I know that the art of building gingerbread houses started life in some northern and central European countries but it has never taken off here in the UK although I am beginning to see an increase in gingerbread house paraphernalia in many shops over recent Christmases.

The Nigerian National Daily reported on an exhibition and seminar organised by the Nigerian Export Promotion Council and the Japanese External Trade Organisation. The theme of the seminar was "Market Access to Japan: Spices and Food Related Products". A Japanese food expert said that Nigerian food products were among the "best and of the highest quality grade". The expert went on to identify ginger as one of the Nigerian spice products which could "break easily into the Japanese market". I don't agree that it would be easy as Nigerian ginger would have to compete with exports from India and Thailand, both hardened and seasoned traders.

Last week's story of Jamaica's failure to win a major ginger export deal with a leading US soft drinks manufacturer has been questioned by the Jamaican government. The Gleaner, which carried the original story, has published the Ministry of Agriculture's response. It contains detailed rebuttals of the claims in the original article such as the ministry is seeking to match potential customers to the unique chemical composition of Jamaican ginger, and that the current export level is limited by the availability of disease-free planting material. An interesting article in its own right.

I've just read that the Great Basin Brewery from north Nevada has released this year's holiday beer - Red Nose Holiday Ale. This interpretation of a traditional Wassail beverage has been brewed with the addition of honey, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. There's not much chance of my ever tasting it but I don't think the chances of the residents of north Nevada are that much better. The reason is that it will be rare, 500 bottles rare. Each bottle of this limited edition will be hand labelled, numbered and signed by the brewmaster.

I'm familiar with the act of wassailling as a southern English tradition of singing and drinking to the health of cider apple trees but I didn't know anything about wassail the beverage. There are regional variations in the recipes but generally they involve mulled cider or beer with added sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger and topped with a slice of toast. As I live in southern England I think that I should make an effort to find a wassailling ceremony close to home.

And finally, researchers at the Qazvin University of Medical Sciences in Iran are testing to see whether ginger is a suitable alternative to painkillers for toothache. According to South Africa's Independent Online an alternative is being sought as ibuprofen cannot be used by people with particular medical conditions such gastrointestinal ulcers and renal problems. You can rely on ginger to come to the rescue.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Ginger Tea Sponsors Volleyball, Agricultural Downsizing, Missed Export Deal & Ginger Coffee

Ginger the Big

I was browsing through some Google Hong Kong search results last week (I don't know why as I can't read Chinese) and came across a character called "Ginger the Big" (see right). Apparently, this little fellow is the key brand for Shandong Manhing Food Company who were selected as the exclusive ginger supplier at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. I really must come up with a little character of my own.

Still on a sporting theme, I discovered that GingerLove, a rather nice ginger tea from Belgium, will sponsor the female Belgian beach volleyball team as they prepare for next year's Olympics. Incidentally, you can read our review of GingerLove on the All Things Ginger website.

Manila Standard Today reported on a Philippines government scheme to encourage farmers in the Highlands to switch from illegally growing marijuana to making an honest living from other crops. Farmers in the towns of Kapangan and Kibungan have chosen to grow ginger on a large scale whilst farmers elsewhere have opted for a range of activities from cattle and pig farming to silkworms.

I came across an unusual use for ginger the other day when I read on about the recent launch of a ginger muscle rub. Natural Hero, a UK start-up in the north east of England, has developed a couple of herbal rubefacient products including one called Hot Ginger Muscle Rub. The company has worked with experts in medicinal plant research and molecular dermatology at Newcastle University to develop the products which contain 98pc natural ingredients. Although these products have been commercially available for a couple of months, they are still being tested by a range of athletes including runners, cyclists and surfers. I gather the ginger rub does not have much of a smell which, for me, is a big plus point.

The Jamaica Observer reported that the Jamaican Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries will be reviewing the number of crops which the country grows commercially. The idea behind this exercise is that the country should be concentrating on those crops which have a competitive and comparative advantage. The minister, Robert Montague, says that the ministry should "put all our resources behind them and, therefore, maximise the earnings from them". It is planned that the current level of 64 crops will be reduced to 20 core crops, one of which will be ginger. This appears to be a case of a government adopting a business practice which has become common in recent years - downsizing and concentrating on core products and values.

Having just said that Jamaica will be putting more resources into ginger, the government must be livid that the ginger industry has just failed to win a J$500 million (US$6m) contract to supply ginger to US-based Reed's Inc, one of the largest naturally brewed ginger soft drinks manufacturers in North America. The Gleaner reported that Chris Reed, the founder and CEO of Reed's, had been unable to find a reliable supplier and also had issues obtaining an export licence. Reed's will now import 1.5 million pounds of ginger a year from South America (which I assume means Brazil). The Jamaican government believes that the country has the potential to supply 170 tons of ginger but is only exporting a mere 15 tons. The Reed's contract could have increased the export market from 170 to 820 tons, a figure which will surely give both the government and the industry itself food for thought.

The Hindu reported that police in the Indian state of Kerala are hoping to reduce night-time accidents by offering drivers ginger coffee. Certain points on the State Highway are known accident black-spots with nearly 300 people killed so far this year. The police are concentrating their resources (and ginger coffee) at these locations, particularly during the Sabarimala season. (Sabarimala is a Hindu pilgrimage centre in Kerala which attracts 45-50 million followers a year).

I knew Crabbie's wouldn't be out of the news for long. Last week Halewood International, who own the alcoholic ginger beer, reported a massive rise in pre-tax profits from £8.8m to £15.8m. Oh, I'm sure that I saw Crabbie's on sale at Tesco yesterday at 3 for £5.

Congratulations to the pupils of Pathways to Technology Magnet High School in Windsor, Connecticut who have just won the Innovative Beverage category in the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship World Series of Innovation competition. They created GinTropic, described by Hartford Business Journal as "a caffeine-free, tropical fruit juice-infused line of ginger ale soft drinks aimed specifically at improving brand recognition and sales of Seagram’s ginger ale by Coca-Cola". The category was sponsored by Coca-Cola.