Not too many people in the U.S. eat a ton of ginger. For most of us, it’s something we find in teas or maybe in some holiday treats. We eat a lot of gingerbread, for example, during the holidays every year, but ginger certainly isn’t a staple in many American diets.
However, the spicy root has a rich history in other parts of the world. In Asia, particularly, ginger is in a lot of savory dishes. It adds a unique flavor and some heat.
Similar to capsaicin in hot peppers, ginger gets its heat from a compound called gingerol. And when ginger is heated or dried, the chemical reaction that occurs amplifies the hot sensation even more.
Ginger certainly has a strong taste, so it’s not for everyone. Love it or hate it, many people struggle to describe the flavor, so depending on their tolerance for hot foods they’ll often classify ginger as either “hot” or “spicy.”
Is Ginger Spicy or Hot?
Putting ginger in your food isn’t going to make your mouth feel like it’s on fire. It’s not the same feeling as putting jalapenos or habanero peppers in a dish. You’re not going to feel that overwhelming burning sensation that you do with many other foods. However, ginger is indeed full of spice, and many people who eat ginger for the first time have a hard time describing what it’s like.
Do you remember the first time you tried wasabi with your sushi? It’s sort of the same concept. It isn’t burn your mouth off hot, but it is indeed spicy.
What’s the difference? Well, with ginger, the flavor and the spiciness can be very intense, especially if you happen to munch directly down on a piece of ginger root. It will bring tears to your eyes, and you’ll need a drink of water, but the effects are usually fleeting. You’re not going to be drowning yourself in milk or chewing on bread to cool off as you do with your favorite hot tacos or spicy wings.
Whether you’re drinking ginger tea, putting pieces of ginger in Asian food recipes at home, or ordering dishes with ginger while dining out, the root adds flavor intensity that is hard to match.
What Makes Ginger Hot?
OK, we’re going to do some chemistry here, so please bear with us.
Ginger contains a decent amount of what’s called gingerol, which is a compound similar to capsaicin, the component found in chilies that makes them so intensely hot. It’s also fairly close to piperine, the ingredient in pepper that gives it its spiciness. The different names, however, indicate that these compounds aren’t the same. That’s why the sensation and flavor you get from chili are much different than roots like wasabi or ginger.
One cool fact about ginger is that gingerol goes through chemical changes when cooked. The gingerol transforms into an entirely different compound called zingerone. Zingerone is what gives cooked ginger, and the dishes it’s in that distinct flavor that’s a wonderful mix of sweet and spicy.
What makes this amazing root even more complex is that ginger turns into what is called shogaols when it is slightly heated or dehydrated. This makes pieces of ginger multiples spicier than normal gingerol. It’s one of the main reasons why dried ginger is so much more potent than fresh ginger.
Hot & Healthy
Ginger is widely recognized as one of the healthiest spices on the planet. If you travel around the world, you’ll encounter a variety of cultures that use ginger as a form of medicine. It purportedly can help reduce nausea, promote healthy digestion, and can be used as a common cold or flu treatment. It also is a powerful antioxidant that has anti-inflammatory effects. It can alleviate stress on the body and its systems.
According to research, gingerol, which ginger gets its heat from, is the main anti-inflammatory component in the spice. So, yes, when you’re eating or drinking ginger, and you start to feel the heat, know that it’s doing your body good and will keep you healthier! So the next time you’re eating some ginger, and you start to feel the burn, just remind yourself that the heat is giving you a bunch of healthy goodness that lowers inflation, speeds your metabolism, and promotes healthy digestion.
5 Health Benefits of Ginger
1. Promotes Healthy Weight Loss
People who want to lose weight may see better results by eating or drinking more ginger! In various studies, participants who took high doses of ginger experienced positive results in terms of reduced obesity and weight loss. Researchers think ginger’s effectiveness stems from the spice’s ability to eliminate excess inflammation and increase metabolism.
2. Heart Healthy
One benefit of ginger is that it reduces what is called oxidative stress, one of the main risk factors when it comes to heart disease. While there is still a lot of anecdotal evidence out there concerning ginger’s ability to improve heart health, initial results show positive signs.
3. Good for Digestive Health
If you or someone you know struggles with frequent indigestion, taking ginger supplements, adding ginger to your food, or drinking ginger tea can help. Most studies indicate that when the stomach stays full for longer, it increases the likelihood of indigestion. Eating more ginger can speed how fast your stomach empties and prevent stomach pains and feelings of discomfort.
4. Improves Brain Function
By reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, ginger can also promote healthy cognitive function and brain performance. Inflammation is one of the main drivers of Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline in general. In some studies, ginger has shown it promotes memory and improves mental reaction speeds.
5. Boosts Overall Immune System Response
Generally, gingers can boost your immune system to fight off common infections. The next time you’re sick, give some ginger tea a try and see how you respond. Make a ginger supplement part of your daily routine and notice how your body and immune system react. By reducing inflammation, your overall immune response should improve, and your body can better fight off infection.
Ginger has a long history abroad, and now it’s getting much more popular at home. You can find ginger supplements easily online or in teas found in your local grocery store. If you’re feeling a bit adventurous, you can buy fresh ginger at the store and give making some of your favorite Asian dishes a try at home.
There are a ton of recipes online you can experiment with to experience the health benefits and delicious flavor of ginger. You can use it fresh, dried, powdered, and candied. Give it a try and see how you feel!