New university-based ginger research shows consumers are eating the wrong type for max. health benefits

Are we missing the boat by eating “old” ginger?

Researchers say “baby” ginger is where the health benefits are at, and farmers may reap the biggest benefits of all.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 26, 2019

Contact: Michelle Olgers, Marketing & Communications Dept., 804-524-6964, molgers@vsu.edu

It’s been in the news for years. Ginger has been hailed a panacea for whatever ails you, from nausea, muscle soreness, inflammation and arthritis to cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and even the common cold.

But a new finding from Virginia State University (VSU) has proven the polyphenols and antioxidants—the good stuff—contained in ginger are significantly higher in young, or “baby” ginger. In fact, VSU research confirms immature ginger contains about twice as many polyphenols and has two to three times more antioxidation activity than the mature ginger found in most grocery stores.

That means if you’re eating ginger for its health benefits, you may be selling yourself short at the supermarket.

“Higher antioxidants mean higher health benefits,” said Dr. Rafat Siddiqui, associate professor of food sciences at VSU’s Agricultural Research Station.

Siddiqui explained polyphenols are micronutrients in certain plant-based foods that are packed with antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds found in food that help ward off cell damage by “cleaning up” cell waste, called free radicals, before they can do harm. Antioxidants are found in many colorful fruits and vegetables and are released during the digestion process to travel through our bloodstream and into our cells.

Free radicals are produced when our body breaks down certain foods, as well as during inflammation, exposure to radiation, and consuming certain chemicals and drugs, like chemotherapy medications. The cell damage free radicals causes has been implicated in higher risks of cancer, heart disease, premature aging and a host of other chronic conditions.

The antioxidants, like those found in fresh ginger, wipe out the free radicals much as Pac-Man® gobbles up the multi-colored ghosts, Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Clyde. In both cases, you’re a winner once the “bad guys” are wiped out.

So, if baby ginger has more health-beneficial antioxidants, why aren’t we eating more of it? “You can’t find it,” said Dr. Reza Rafie, horticulture Extension specialist at VSU. He explained it just isn’t readily available to most consumers.

One hundred percent of the ginger we find at the supermarket is imported, largely from Southeast Asia on container ships. From the time it’s packed until it makes its way into your kitchen is usually months. “Baby ginger is more perishable than its older counterpart, which naturally features a papery skin to lock in moisture and freshness,” said Rafie. “The immature ginger just couldn’t make the voyage.”

So, what’s a health-conscious, ginger-lover to do? Rafie has a solution that not only holds benefits for consumers, but also for U.S. small-scale farmers, as well.

Since it takes less time to grow and harvest baby ginger (seven to eight months, Rafie explained, compared to commercial ginger, which matures in the ground for about 10-11 months), the tropical plant can grow in regions with shorter growing seasons than Southeast Asia. Rafie explained he and many others have had great success growing baby ginger in pots and in raised beds up and down the East Coast.

“But it’s a crop that must be sold close to home and quickly,” he added. “It’s perfect for those small-scale farmers who sell direct to consumers at farmers markets or through community supported agriculture (CSA) programs or to chefs, who prefer it for its more delicate taste and the fact it doesn’t need to be peeled.”

For those who want to ensure access to baby ginger next fall, it can be grown at home, as well. “There are certainly some unique challenges in growing a tropical plant in non-tropical conditions, but I’ve been growing it myself for many years and working with a lot of farmers who have, too, and I think we’ve figured out most of the obstacles and how to get around them.”

And growing baby ginger can prove to be profitable, as well. Immature ginger is selling this fall for about $5 to $10 a pound, depending on the market, remarked Rafie. Compared with traditional small-scale farming crops like tomatoes or sweet potatoes, which were selling this summer at a Richmond, Va farmers market for $2 and $1.50* respectively, baby ginger can offer farmers the opportunity for greater profits per production area.

He explained that production results at VSU have shown that each ginger plant has the potential of producing three to eight pounds of marketable baby ginger, depending on production techniques, including fertilizer, irrigation, disease management and mounding.

Baby ginger is usually harvested and marketed September through December. Rafie is currently investigating techniques to be able to extend the production season and, therefore, its availability for consumers.

The market potential is considerable, says Rafie. And he’s hoping to get more farmers on board with the crop. But he understands, too, this is something new to consumers. They’ll need to “discover” it first.

“It’s only in the past few years that Americans have become familiar with ginger’s potential health benefits at all. Now we’re going to have to educate them that it’s worth digging deeper in their pockets for the young stuff,” he remarked. But he’s hoping Siddiqui’s new research discovery will help.

“Now that we know baby ginger knocks its older sibling out of the park with its anti-oxidant punch, we need to continue our research at VSU to learn its health benefits,” said Siddiqui. For example, his preliminary data indicate ginger can be very effective in preventing obesity, but he said he still needs to perform additional studies in human subjects. He added, “Until then, I don’t think it’s too early to encourage more farmers to start learning more about how to jump on what I estimate to be the start of a baby ginger bandwagon.”

To that end, Rafie and Siddiqui are hosting a Ginger and Turmeric Field Day at Virginia State University, Petersburg, VA, on October 24, 2019. The program will cover the health benefits of ginger and turmeric; diseases of both plants; Richmond’s Hardywood Brewery Gingerbread Stout runaway success story (featuring locally-grown baby ginger); and a field visit where participants will see four new varieties of container and outdoor grown ginger, as well as learn about the harvesting, washing and packing of the crops for market. For more information, visit the calendar of events at ext.vsu.edu and click on the event.

-30-

* Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Virginia Market News Services, August 28, 2019 Vol. 27 No. 04ISSN 1078-6848 (https://www.vdacs.virginia.gov/pdf/fm.pdf)

PHOTOS: Download high-resolution photos from Smugmug.