Ginger Snacks Will Satisfy Your Spice Cravings And Clear Your Sinuses

With snack foods, we typically think of these as being divided into two camps, these being sweet and savory. Each one, however, can be divided into numerous subcategories such as spicy, sour, greasy, nutty, and ... pungent? Yes, ginger snacks, while not easily categorized, would definitely fall under this last heading. They could also be considered spicy in that ginger is, in fact, a spice, whether it's used in powdered, preserved, or fresh form.

Ginger snacks may not be as well known or widely available as the more typical array of cookies, candies, chips, nuts, and meat sticks offered at gas stations and convenience stores nationwide, but they're not too hard to find if you know where to look. They're well worth seeking out, too, since not only do they offer a taste sensation that goes above and beyond the simple sweet/salty dichotomy, but they may even offer certain health benefits. Needless to say, as with all snack foods, this statement comes with a caveat: Ginger snacks are only likely to offer real nutritional benefits if they contain a substantial amount of the stuff and if the other ingredients used are also on the healthy side, as well. Still, if it's big, bold flavor that you seek, you'll find that a little bit of ginger goes quite a long way. For true aficionados, though, the more ginger, the better.

History of ginger snacks

Ginger snacks have ancient roots, which befits a rhizome that grows underground. Its use seems to date back about 5,000 years, although it's likely that the spice was first used as a medicine rather than a food or flavoring agent. Ginger was known in ancient Rome, as well, and was quite a pricey spice in medieval Europe. One of the earliest ginger snacks we're aware of is ginger preserved in syrup, although this may have been meant more for baking purposes than for eating on its own. Another long-standing ginger-flavored treat is the gingerbread cookie. In fact, legend has it that Queen Elizabeth I invented person-shaped gingerbread cookies as a Christmas treat, although we're inclined to think that her palace cooks were the ones who did all the actual chopping, stirring, and shaping.

Gingerbread cookie recipes came to America with the earliest European immigrants and soon developed into a variant called the gingersnap (although these are basically the same thing as the ginger nut biscuits you may have seen Paul Hollywood make use of on countless British baking shows). By the late 18th or early 19th century, gingersnaps were the go-to refreshment served up at local community Muster Days where the town militia would get together to shoot off muskets, march in formation, drink rum, and eat cookies.

Ginger snacks come in many different varieties

Two or more centuries after first becoming a Muster Day favorite, gingersnaps are a grocery store staple, while gingerbread in festive shapes starts appearing in stores and bakeries before Thanksgiving. For the ginger purist, however, candied or crystallized ginger are made from the real deal cooked in a sugar solution and they're close enough to fresh ginger that they can be used as a substitute in some recipes, They can also be eaten on their own as a deliciously spicy-sweet snack. While some types of preserved ginger include little more than ginger and sugar, others will include preservatives or additional flavoring agents such as vinegar. Ginger candies, too, are available in both chewy and hard forms and may sometimes include other flavors such as lemon.

While it may seem as if most ginger snacks are sweet ones, there are a few that stick to the savory side of the street. Pickled ginger, the kind you may be familiar with from sushi platters, is made with salt and vinegar and is tangy rather than sugary. Ginger-flavored potato chips and popcorn are also a thing, both available in sweet and savory varieties. The former ranges from the salty-sweet kettle kind to a pungent ginger-wasabi blend, while we've seen the latter in a sugary gingerbread cookie-flavored variety as well as a spicy one with cayenne.

Ginger snacks may have health benefits

Of all of the ginger snacks we've mentioned here, the ones that could really be considered health foods consist primarily of preserved ginger, whether it be candied or pickled. Although ginger cookies and potato chips may contain a certain amount of the ingredient (most likely in powdered form), it may be sufficient to add flavor but not enough to impart significant nutritional benefits. With the more ginger-based snacks, though, the main ingredient is thought to help with digestion, improve circulation, and boost immunity against disease (although some may still quibble about the not-so-healthy inclusion of sugar or salt).

Among the best-known of ginger's health benefits may be its ability to help ease symptoms of nausea, whether they be caused by illness, pregnancy, chemotherapy, or traveling by boat or car. It does this by helping food move through the digestive system since an empty stomach is less likely to feel queasy. Even ginger-flavored candies can help with this, and motion sickness maven Dramamine markets ginger chews meant specifically for nausea relief. Additionally, ginger contains compounds that counteract nasal congestion (which is why fans of ginger tea may have noticed the drink's sinus-clearing effects when sick).

Here's where to buy ginger snacks

Depending on the type of ginger snacks you are in the market for, there are a number of different places to buy them. Gingersnaps can very likely be found in your local grocery store's cookie aisle, although for frosted, shaped gingerbread cookies you may need to wait for the holiday season. Expect to see these in abundance around the holiday season, particularly if you are attending an event such as Chicago's Christkindlmarket. You can also look for German-style gingerbread cookies of various sorts at Aldi in the month of December — one year it even supplemented its more traditional offerings with a more whimsical (not to mention feisty) "Ninjabread" cookie kit.

If it's candied ginger you're looking for, Trader Joe's has been known to carry crystallized ginger every so often, but at the time of writing, it was not listed as a product on the website. Still, you can always buy a (somewhat aged) bag of the stuff on Amazon, or there are countless other preserved ginger products available online, some of these even chocolate-covered. Asian markets, too, may be a good source of ginger snacks, offering a selection of ginger candies, pickled ginger, and sometimes ginger-flavored potato chips. Ginger chips and popcorn are also the kind of thing that can be purchased from online vendors.

Here's how to make ginger snacks

If you're looking to make ginger-flavored cookies, there's no shortage of recipes online, and in fact, we've got a few of our own: Here's one for gingerbread cookies that you roll out and shape with cookie cutters, and here's a recipe for gingersnaps dipped in white chocolate (cheater's tip: you can also dip store-bought gingersnaps if you're not up for a big baking project). You can also make your own candied ginger by peeling and slicing the stuff and simmering it in sugar syrup for a very long time.

If you'd prefer to make a savory ginger snack, pickled ginger is a fairly easy project: Peel it, slice it, salt it, and finally submerge it in a solution of rice vinegar and sugar. You could also make an entirely sugar-free snack that involves frying thin slices of cornstarch-dusted ginger, and then sprinkling them with salt and pepper. Ginger popcorn, too, is another super-simple snack. Simply pop some corn any way you want (using air, oil, or the microwave; it really doesn't matter too much), then drizzle it with melted butter or oil mixed with a sweet blend of brown sugar, cinnamon, and ginger or a spicier one where the ginger is supplemented with curry powder, wasabi, or cayenne.