Virginia State University College of Agriculture
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
* Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Virginia Market News Services