Sunday, 26 February 2012

Alzheimer's Disease, Ginger Tea, Medicinal Plants & Corfu Ginger Beer

A leading authority on the causes and prevention of Alzheimer’s eats ginger every day to prevent the possible onset of the disease, according to a report in The Vancouver Sun. Neurology professor Pat McGeer, from the University of British Columbia, told the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Vancouver that ginger can help prevent the protein plaque buildup in the brain which leads to the disease. McGeer, who is 84 and still active in Alzheimer's research, said that as pharmaceutical companies are nowhere near finding a cure, it is quite reasonable for people to look elsewhere such as in their own kitchens. He also said that as well as ginger you could try blackberries, rhubarb, cinnamon, turmeric (from the ginger family), cranberries, pomegranate and blueberries.

Salada Foods is the largest coffee processing company in Jamaica and has been in coffee for over half a century. Last October the company, in a major departure from its core activities, launched a ginger tea. This drink is made, quite naturally, from Jamaican ginger. But now, according to the Jamaica Observer, the company has encountered a slight problem. In order to meet export demand for the new ginger tea they obviously need ginger. But Jamaica is not producing enough to meet the company's requirements. So Salada has started working with farmers and the agriculture ministry to increase production.

There has always been a strong relationship between man and medicinal plants. Right from the start of civilization plants have been used as medicine by men and animals, probably by animals before men. These were the introductory sentences to a workshop last week called, unsurprisingly, Man and Medicinal Plants. Organised by the Department of Botany at Bharathiar University in Coimbatore in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the aim of the workshop was to provide an understanding of how medicinal plants can be of use to man and to identify research opportunities. Zee News reported Dr K Nirmal Babu, Principal Scientist at the prestigious Indian Institute of Spices Research, who stated that spices, such as ginger and its close relative turmeric, play an important role in curing diseases such as cancer and diabetes. The modern study of the medicinal properties of food is known by the term nutraceutical, a portmanteau of the words “nutrition” and “pharmaceutical” coined in 1989 by Dr Stephen DeFelice.

There is small company in Columbus, Ohio, called Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams which has created a seasonal product called Influenza Sorbet. It contains bourbon, honey, lemon juice, ginger, cayenne pepper and orange juice.

Nigeria is a major ginger producer and exporter which seems to have cornered the market in dried-split ginger. Dried ginger can be offered whole but is usually in sliced or split form. The sliced version is easier for manufacturers to grind but tends to lose more flavour than the split version where the rhizomes are 'split' but not necessarily parted.

Ginger and other spices from the south-western Indian state of Kerala are very popular in many cities to the north. Until now these commodities have been transported by road with traders having to absorb or pass on the many costs incurred such as inter-state tax tariffs and road permits. The Indian Spices Board has now been offered a train service by Indian Railways to transport the spices and other products to cities such as Mumbai, Delhi and Jodhpur. The Business Standard also reported that the new train will be called "Kairali Queen" and will be faster and cheaper than by road.

Last week I learned all about the British occupation of the Greek island of Corfu. In 1809 the French ruled Corfu and the British had taken all of the other Ionian islands. Quite naturally the British wanted the complete set and made an unsuccessful attempt at invading Corfu. I don't really know what happened in between but in 1815 the Ionian Islands became a British protectorate known as the United States of the Ionian Islands with Corfu as the seat of the British Lord High Commissioner. The islands continued to be administered by the British until 1864 when they were handed over to Greece. So why am I telling you this? Well, the British have been in love with ginger for centuries and introduced ginger-based products to many parts of the world. They introduced ginger beer to Corfu and it became an instant hit. In fact, it has become so popular that many now regard it as Corfu's traditional refreshment drink. Known variously as "tsin tsin birra" and "tzitzibira", the drink is made with grated ginger, lemon juice, lemon oil, water and sugar.

It has been nearly a year since Sri Lanka embarked on a major initiative aimed at changing the way people lead their lives. In the past Sri Lanka was built around a network of self-sufficient villages where households produced much of their food requirements themselves and those with larger areas of land produced excess quantities to sell in town markets. This lifestyle changed following the arrival of first the Portuguese, then the Dutch and finally the British. The aims of this new initiative, known as Divi Neguma, include restoring self-sufficiency, food security, healthy diets and reducing malnutrition. The government has provided households and farmers with seeds and plants (including ginger) and assistance as part of the project. The report in the Daily News also stated that Sri Lanka's vegetable and fruit consumption is less than half that of a developed country.

An Australian woman was feeling ill last week so she went to the shop to buy some ginger ale and, presumably on impulse, a lottery ticket as well. She won over A$3.3million.

Brigadier Kasirye Gwanga is the Ugandan Presidential Advisor on Military Affairs. He is also a shrewd farmer as well, according to allAfrica. Gwanga benefited from the vanilla boom from the mid-1990s until the mid-2000s. Now that the boom is over he has diversified into ginger and believes that he will become the largest grower of the crop. He has noticed that ginger, which has been grown for many years in Uganda, has now become scarce and domestic demand has to be supplemented by imports from Kenya. It looks like he has spotted an opening there.

The Ugandan government has predicted that preserved ginger has a big future. This prediction has been backed by a plan to build a ginger processing plant. But there is one problem - an insufficient supply of locally grown ginger. I couldn't possibly suggest that the Ugandan government speak to Kasirye Gwanga because of the obvious conflict of interest. But surely there must be plenty of farmers who could also start ginger cultivation now that they no longer produce vanilla.

I've come across a number of unverifiable reports that there is more incentive for Indian farmers to grow ginger this coming season than turmeric.

I'm going to finish with something unpleasant. The Miami Herald featured Andrew Zimmern, a TV celebrity who eats unusual foods. The article described his visit to an uninhabited Samoan island where he ate grilled giant fruit bat seasoned with ginger juice. Personally, I would never have used ginger but if you haven't got any cranberry sauce to hand what are you supposed to do?

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Old England, Ginger Port, Sustainability, Tourism & Salted Ginger

I was interested to find a reference in the Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary to Gingifran broĆ¾ which translates as ginger broth. I knew that the Romans introduced ginger to Britain but this is the first evidence that I've seen which shows that the Anglo-Saxons, who settled in Britain after the Romans, continued to import and consume ginger.

I also discovered Thomas Rymer's Fœdera, a sixteen volume collection of "all the leagues, treaties, alliances, capitulations, and confederacies, which have at any time been made between the Crown of England and any other kingdoms, princes and states". Rymer was a 17th/18th century English Historiographer Royal. One of the volumes contains a reference to an unnamed Genoese ship which was shipwrecked at Dunster, in Somerset, in 1380. Part of the cargo consisted of green ginger which today refers to young ginger but back then meant ginger cured with lemon juice.

It is only a matter of weeks before the Australian ginger harvest begins. To be precise it will be early harvested ginger. Ginger is normally harvested when the above-ground growth has started to die back or at least turned yellow but early harvested ginger will still have an actively growing green stem. Early ginger rhizomes are tender and fleshy with a relatively mild flavour and can either be eaten fresh or preserved in syrup or brine (known as preserved or stem ginger). Australia and China are world-leaders in the production of preserved ginger.

Still in Australia and Ginger Sundowner from Bell River Estate in central New South Wales. Bell River Estate produces table wines and fortified wines from its own grapes and grapes from the local area. One particular product I noticed was Ginger Sundowner, a white fortified wine flavoured with a natural ginger extract. Sandra and Michael Banks took over the business in 2000 and have since created a diverse range of wines. Ginger Sundowner was only introduced six months ago and sales have been good which shows the popularity of ginger. Sandra and Michael were looking for a product which would suit long, hot summers and came up with the idea of a ginger-type wine, something that would be good to drink both on its own and mixed with another drink. Sandra likes it with soda water at a BBQ but says it goes equally well with dry ginger ale, lemonade, as a dash in beer or mixed with whisky. She also recommends using it in stir fry dishes and marinated cantaloupe and watermelon.

Whilst researching and writing about Ginger Sundowner I discovered that the term "port", as a synonym for fortified wine, can no longer be used for Australian wines. Australian winemakers have been banned from using the words Port, Sherry and Champagne on their labels following objections from the EU. In return, 117 of Australia’s geographical indicators, including Barossa, Coonawarra and Margaret River, will be protected in Europe.

A week ago the 11th World Spice Congress was held in India to discuss the theme of "Sustainability and Food Safety: Global Initiatives". One outcome, reported in FarmingUK, has been the appointment of the Rainforest Alliance to adapt current sustainability standards to include spice production. The Sustainable Spices Initiative has asked the Rainforest Alliance (a non-governmental organisation) to incorporate spices into the Sustainable Agriculture Network. The first phase of the project will run from 2012-2015 and will target seven spices (including ginger) from Vietnam, India, Indonesia and Madagascar.

The Sustainable Spices Initiative (SSI) is an international spice consortium founded by a number of Dutch spice businesses and now includes Unilever and McCormick. It seeks to reduce the use of pesticides and chemicals, conserve biodiversity, increase yields and training farmers on appropriate food safety requirements. This, according to the SSI website, should lead to an "economic boost for farmers, processors, traders and retailers, and to securing the future supply base of natural spices".

The Sustainable Agriculture Network is an international coalition of leading conservation groups which aims to link "responsible farmers with conscientious consumers by means of the Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal of approval".

Over recent years India has pioneered the concept of the model tourism village. These villages are allocated extra funding to help them provide tourists with a memorable experience. The first model tourism village in India was created in 2003 in Kumbalangi, an island-village in the state of Kerala. Tourists can go fishing with local fisherman, visit the paddy fields and walk in the mangroves. The village made the news last week when IBNLive reported that the Kumbalangi Model Tourism Development Society will introduce ginger and turmeric (a member of the ginger family) cultivation. The report stated that this could be the first time that these traditional hill farm crops are being cultivated in a flat coastal village. These crops will be planted as an intercrop between rows of coconut trees to give even more interest to tourists.

Strong demand from Japan and the US for salted ginger has enabled a Vietnamese company to expand and create jobs. reported that Thanh Lan Enterprise in Kon Tum City is performing so well that it has built a new ginger processing factory.

You're not going to believe this but I found a patent application for a salted ginger toothpaste. Filed in 2004 by China's Chengzhi Co, there is no evidence that I can find that the toothpaste actually reached the shop shelves.

Next month will see Greenlight Beverages launch its Chronic Ice Ginger Ale in the US alternative drinks market. The drink will be made from real ginger extract, cane sugar and hemp seed powder. I'm not entirely sure what the alternative drinks market is. Is it anything new? Is it anything natural? Is it anything that is not a cola? Let me know.

A recipe containing ginger leaves made me realise that I know very little about this part of the plant. It seems to be quite popular in the Far East which probably explains why I've yet to see it in the UK. It could be that ginger leaves don't travel that well. I did come across a report on the antioxidant properties (AOP) of ginger leaves which indicated that the majority of leaves tested had significantly higher AOP values than in the rhizomes. Interestingly, the report mentioned that the ginger plants being tested came from three plant tribes, all of which belong to the ginger family (Zingiberaceae).

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Moonshine, Proverbs, Pesticide, Beer & Exports

I do enjoy a touch of lateral browsing, if that is the correct term for going off on a tangent. I came across the Chinese proverb "The older the ginger the hotter the spice" and I was only checking for the latest football scores. Now, I know that the older ginger is, the more potent it becomes. But the proverb, apparently, means that the older you are, the wiser you become. Well, I had a feeling that was the case.

And here's another old Chinese saying - "Eating radish in winter and ginger in summer keeps the doctor away". I've no idea what it means beyond its literal interpretation.

Here's something you don't see very often on a brewery website - the perfect drink for the designated driver. This is what Waiheke Island Brewery from New Zealand says about its Hauraki Gulf Ginger Beer. This unpasteurised drink is made from juiced ginger, a lot of lemons, raw sugar, honey and plenty of fizz.

Still in New Zealand and news in the Nelson Mail that Moa Brewing will be launching a dry ginger lager sometime this year. Moa Brewing is known for producing bottle conditioned beers in its Marlborough brewery.

Good news last week for Bangladeshi housewives out shopping for ginger in the kitchen markets of Dhaka. Since late last year the retail price of ginger has gone up from Tk40 per kg to Tk90 per kg with the rise being blamed on poor supply. But last week the price dropped dramatically to Tk60-Tk65 per kg. This could have something to do with the fact that the Bangladeshi ginger harvest has now started.

The start of the Bangladeshi ginger harvest was reported by The Financial Express which also mentioned that the bulk of the country's ginger comes from the Nilphamari district in Northern Bangladesh. I've yet to see any reports on the quality and quantity of the new harvest but last September the ginger fields of Nilphamari were hit by a severe virus. Whether this has affected the new crop remains to be seen. As recently as 2008 it was predicted that ginger cultivation in the district could actually cease as disease and virus infection became widespread. The district, which in the past produced enough ginger for the entire country, is still waiting for a consistent supply of virus-free and high yielding ginger seed.

Here is an idea for the UK government. British aid is given to India which has stated that it doesn't want it. So why not buy some virus-free and high yielding ginger 'seed' and give it to the farmers of Nilphamari. You never know, the district could end up supplying the entire country again. And Bangladesh would not have to import from China and India.

The Times of India reported that five people have died in India after drinking a ginger-based ayurvedic medicine containing more than 60% alcohol and sold as an illicit liquor. One of the victims was the retailer of the drink who had been selling it for more than five years.

Cumbria, in North West England, is one of the most sparsely populated counties in the UK. I've often wondered how it managed to produce such a wide range of spiced (including ginger) products, the most famous, I think, being Grasmere Gingerbread. I've now discovered that the small Cumbrian port of Whitehaven was, in the 18th Century, the third largest port in the UK specialising in trade between the Americas and Africa. This trade involved the importation of a range of exotic spices including ginger. It is quite likely that the ginger came from Jamaica which had been exporting since the mid-16th Century.

The Jamaica Information Service announced that the Jamaican government will oversee the expansion of country's ginger and turmeric industries to meet the growing export markets (Whitehaven again perhaps?). The expansion will take the form of 500 extra acres of farmland, more value-added production facilities and extra officials in the agriculture ministry's Export Division. It is interesting to see that after years of inactivity, the Jamaican government has adopted a volte-face and is know actively seeking to rebuild a once internationally famous spice industry. Incidentally, turmeric is a member of the ginger family.

Flavoured tea is becoming popular with tea drinkers in Calcutta, according to The Times of India. Both the young and old have discovered the delights of teas such as fennel & ginger, and ginger, mint & lemon. This is an area in which the West has a lead as flavoured teas have been popular in Europe and the US for a number of years now.

I was speaking to an Indian colleague recently about the mandi markets in India. These are markets where you buy your fruit and vegetables. I had always pronounced it as MAN-DEE but I was wrong. It is actually pronounced MUN-DEE.

Fresh root ginger has become an essential product on the shelves of UK supermarkets. In 2009, Tesco generated sales in excess of £3m on fresh root ginger alone.

Business Standard reported on the difficulties facing Indian spice traders and producers as they grapple with a mass of standards and regulations covering food safety, sustainability and traceability. Countries like Germany, the UK, France, Japan and Australia all insist that Indian exports must adhere to their own standards. But India cannot afford not to meet these standards and regulations as failure could affect the country's position as the largest producer and exporter of spices in the world.

The United Nations Industrial Development Organisation has issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the phasing out of methyl bromide in Chinese ginger production. Methyl bromide (also known as bromomethane) is a soil fumigant used as an effective control against nematodes, fungi, insects and weeds. First used in France in the 1930s, methyl bromide is used to control root knot nematodes, pythium soft rot and ginger wilt when applied to ginger cultivation. The use of methyl bromide is being phased out as it is believed that its use damages the ozone layer. Many countries have already phased out use of the pesticide with Japan committing to phase out by 2013.

The Kathmandu Post reported that the Nepalese government is set to take unspecified measures to reduce agricultural imports to ensure better prices for Nepalese farmers. Nepal imported ginger worth Rs176.67 million last year with China accounting for Rs99 million and India Rs72 million. A recent post on the Nepal Spot Exchange blog said that production of ginger in India, the destination of much of Nepal's ginger, has increased in response to Indian government agricultural subsidies. This has forced down the price of Nepalese ginger. The blogger was also critical of the poor state of Nepal's processing and warehousing facilities. So I'm feeling rather confused as to what the Nepalese government is hoping to achieve. Nepal exports a lot of what it produces but its export markets are not as profitable as they once were. But the country cannot retain more of what it produces to replace the imports as it doesn't have adequate storage facilities.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Ginger Cocktails, Tchaikovsky, Missing Markets & Gingerbread City

Here is a drink I found this week that sounds quite interesting. It is called Ginger Rootini and is one of the signature cocktails at Om Modern Asian Kitchen in Tuscon, Arizona. Described by the Tuscon Citizen as "a must for ginger lovers", the drink is made by first grating and juicing fresh ginger, and then adding Domaine de Canton (a ginger liqueur), vodka and lime juice. I haven't tried it yet as I don't live in Tucson. And I don't have any Domaine de Canton. And I don't have any vodka either. Still, ginger and lime go nicely together.

Capital, a New York online news publication, introduced me to a fascinating story about Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and gingerbread. In May of 1891, Tchaikovsky was on his way by train to visit Niagara Falls. During a brief interlude whilst changing trains in Utica, he wrote a letter to his brother, Modest, which contained this extract "ginger bread and toy soldiers have started dancing in my head". The following year these images were presented to the world as the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" from The Nutcracker.

Next week the 11th World Spice Congress will convene in Pune, India. From February 9-11, over 200 international delegates and over 250 Indian delegates will meet to discuss aspects of spice under this year's theme of "Sustainability and Food Safety: Global Initiatives". The spice industry (and we are including ginger here) has to ensure that it meets the demand for quality products on a consistent basis. Incidentally, no country produces as many different spices as India does.

I never knew until the other day that a mainstay of the family medicine cabinet, gripe water, probably contains ginger. I say "probably" as it depends on which formulation you have bought. And I was surprised to learn that after more than 150 years there is no medical evidence for the effectiveness of gripe water. But it seems to work.

Two of the most pleasing aspects of surfing the Internet, I find, are discovering things I never knew and being able to visit places I've never been to before and not likely to in the future. It was last night that I discovered the existence of the Old City district of Sana'a, the capital of Yemen. I wasn't looking for Sana'a in particular but it was gingerbread that brought it to my attention. The Old City is sometimes referred to as the Gingerbread City as many of the buildings give the appearance of having been built from gingerbread, complete with white icing. There is an impressive photo of these buildings on the UNESCO World Heritage Site website.

Last December Frankie's Olde Soft Drink Company from South Africa complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that the South African retailer Woolworths copied Frankie's packaging and flavours for its own branded range of drinks. The plagiarised drinks included Fiery Ginger Beer and Homemade Ginger Beer. Last week the ASA found in favour of Frankie's because Woolworths had copied the phrase "Good Old Fashioned Soft Drinks". The ASA also ruled that “the packaging may not be used again in its current format in future”. Woolworths in South Africa is not associated with the famous F.W.Woolworth organisation.

A couple of weeks ago I commented on the doubling of the retail price of ginger in Dhaka's kitchen markets from Tk40 per kg to Tk80 per kg. Bangladesh's The Daily Sun has now reported that the price has gone up again to TK90 per kg which, according to the newspaper, is "increasing miseries in the people's lives". The price rise is being blamed on increased demand coupled with poor supply.

The previous story links quite nicely to a report in the Manipur Mail. The newspaper reported that ginger farmers in the neighbouring state of Mizoram are giving up ginger cultivation because of a lack of markets to sell their produce. I found it puzzling that Mizoram, the fourth largest ginger producing state in India, cannot sell its ginger when the state borders Bangladesh which, as we have seen, cannot meet demand. Mizoram farmers are claiming that the state government has not shown sufficient interest in ginger agriculture. Can I suggest that a Mizoram state official talks to a Bangladesh government official. The Mizoram government may also be interested to know that imports of Chinese ginger through Chittagong, Bangladesh's biggest seaport, surged in January (see The Financial Express).

Whilst researching the last story I learned that both Mizoram and Manipur are members of the Seven Sisters States, a group of contiguous states stuck out on a limb in north eastern India.

The Daily News in Sri Lanka reported that over 163,000 families in the Kandy district in the centre of the island have benefited from government agricultural assistance. 7,386 kg of ginger seed have been distributed which could produce up to 30 tonnes of usable ginger.

Here's a recipe for ginger champagne I found on the French website 1001 Cocktails. For each person, take 1 cl of vodka, 2 cl of ginger syrup and 10 cl chilled champagne. Then mix and drink. It seems ideal for Valentine's Day. Apparently it is very popular in New York.

Finally, can anyone tell me whether a ginger compress actually works. Research online tells me many things such as how to make one and what ailments it is purported to assist or cure. Personally I don't subscribe to the "releasing stagnating energy" school of thought but I can well believe that it stimulates blood flow.