Ginger poised to spice up foods of the '90s

March 20, 1994|By McClatchy News Service

If I were a betting man, I'd wager that ginger will be to the 1990s what goat cheese was to the '70s and sun-dried tomatoes were to the '80s -- the food that so grabs our jaded palates it starts to show up everywhere, from atop pizzas to inside muffins.

Compared with the others, however, ginger is a long shot, being neither dear nor rare. In its raw state, it's ugly, a knobby, tawny root that looks as if it suffers a vitamin deficiency.

On the other hand, ginger has a few things going for it. Versatility, for one; it comes in several forms -- fresh, ground, preserved, crystallized -- and lends itself to numerous applications. What's more, its flavor is fresh and lively.

Ginger's adaptability and clean flavor were evident at the recent Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, which featured some 20,000 specialty foods.

To be sure, just a fraction of the products featured ginger, not enough to signal a trend. Many of those products, however, were just being introduced or hadn't long been on the market. In addition, purveyors spoke of booming sales and consumer interest in just about anything associated with ginger.

Ginger salsas, ginger honeys, ginger marmalades, ginger ice-cream toppings and chocolate-coated ginger candies were among the new products.

Bruce Leeson, president of Royal Pacific Foods in Pleasanton, Calif., which imports candied ginger from Australia, said his ginger business jumped 40 percent in just the past six months.

"It's different, distinctly different," says Mr. Leeson in trying to explain ginger's appeal. "It's an acquired taste, but once you get it, you're hooked."

One of Mr. Leeson's associates, Tony Van Alphen, was handing out small pieces of moist, pliable preserved ginger with cubes of Edam cheese. The pairing is an old Dutch custom to boost the flavor of young savory cheeses, making them seem more aged than they are, he says.

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