A ginger revival – the root re-establishes its popularity

No longer only associated with Asian cuisine – ginger has shed its traditional associations and become the ingredient of choice for many new consumer foods. Here, Food Processing Technology takes a look at the virtues of this trending ingredient and its new popular applications.

Joe & Seph

Fuelled by an increase in the popularity of cookery shows and celebrity chefs such as Heston Blumenthal, consumers have become increasingly interested in familiar flavours and ingredients used in unfamiliar ways. Ginger has become the latest ingredient to undergo a surge in popularity, finding a new lease of life in a range of different applications not usually associated with the flavoursome root.

Long gone are the days when ginger was solely associated with Asian cuisine, as well as the odd ginger nut biscuit and cake range; it can now be found remodeled in a variety of products, from wine mixers and popcorn to cordials and ice cream, and the list continues to grow. Full of a rich tangy flavour and packed with health benefits it's no surprise the ingredient is undergoing something of a revival.

Ginger as we know it

Part of the turmeric, cardamom and galangal family, ginger was originally cultivated in south Asia. It is essentially a tangy kitchen spice most commonly used in Asian stir-fry dishes, curries, teas and salads.

It can also be found dried, pickled and candied. It is known for its herbal health benefits that include aiding indigestion, reducing sea sickness and possibly lowering cholesterol, and it has always been popular among health aficionados.

"Long gone are the days when ginger was solely associated with Asian cuisine, as well as the odd ginger nut biscuit."

In the UK on almost every street corner an Asian eatery can be found and it is clearly influencing our use of certain flavours. Ginger's growing popularity can be linked to Asia's influence over British cuisine.

Karin Nielsen, director of the Ingredients Division at consumer market experts Canadian, says: "Ginger is very closely related with the Asian food culture and the UK is heavily influenced by the Asian food culture, this is one of the reasons it has an upgoing trend for the moment."

However, just as the English Anglicised curry, they also have a history of Anglicising ginger and this is the concept that is in the process of a revival. Ginger in UK products has traditionally been used as a sweet flavouring - cakes, biscuits and candy - as opposed to savoury in Asian foods, the only exception to this being its use in the home, where it can be regularly found in many kitchens for use in stir-fries, tea and homemade curries.

Attracting a new audience

When industry professionals were asked what age group ginger products are traditionally more popular with, they said they believed ginger used to be more commonly associated as a flavour favoured by the older consumer. However, this latest ginger revival is attracting a younger audience.

"In the UK on almost every street corner an Asian eatery can be found and it is clearly influencing our use of certain flavours."

Brands such as Crabbie's ginger beer, artisan popcorn maker Joe & Seph and Tropical Sun have revived ginger for a younger audience.

Crabbie's, for example, has branded its alcoholic ginger beer in a similar way to cider companies such as Magners, Bulmers and Kopparberg, who re-popularized their brands, and cider in general, to attract consumers ranging from their 20s to 40s, both male and female.

Crabbie's has rebranded ginger beer to attract the same audience. Earlier this year, Crabbie's also launched two ginger-based sauces: Crabbie's Ginger Spiced Sweet Chili and Sweet Ginger Splash, which combine vanilla, orange and ginger flavour, and it already has a ready mixed ginger mac drink and ginger infused mulled wine in its range.

Adam Sopher, co-founder and director of Joe & Seph's Gourmet Popcorn, which launched a gingerbread flavour variety last Easter, said of their ginger popcorn: "People are increasingly serving it [gingerbread popcorn] with coffee. A lot of coffee houses are buying it in bulk because traditionally you would have a ginger nut biscuit with a coffee but they have become quite old fashioned."

"It brings it [ginger] to a younger audience as it's something a younger audience would prefer."

Since launching the popcorn at Easter, Sopher said it has become one of the company's most popular flavour combinations and is one of their top five sellers.

Ginger in a colder climate

The new UK ginger revolution is also being fuelled by the chilling winter climate as people look for comfort foods with perceived health benefits. Although ginger can be equally associated with summer or winter - perhaps even more so with a hot climate if you go back to its origins - in the UK it seems to be flourishing particularly in winter.

"Since launching the popcorn at Easter, Sopher said it has become one of the company's most popular flavour combinations."

Sopher says: "I think, definitely in terms of it being a seasonal thing, volumes of sales are higher at Easter and this time of year."

Adding: "I think ginger is going the same way as cinnamon." Cinnamon is also a popular ingredient in the UK and is commonly associated with Christmas.

Nielsen agrees: "There are some flavours that are seasonal and ginger, cinnamon, cloves are typically connected with some of the products you have along Christmas."

She adds that you will also find different versions of the ginger flavour in summer: "But in summer-time maybe more like the flowery, fruity taste, I would say the more spicy flavours are probably more popular in the winter season."

This indicates that consumers' interest in ginger is unlikely to tail off during the summer months, it will just be consumed in a different way and different varieties will be more popular. Healthier ginger foods such as Cawston Press Apple and Ginger Juice and Crabbie's ginger sauces will flourish as people look to eat lighter, healthier foods.

However, Nielsen says consumers will only receive the health benefits of ginger if its active ingredient is present in the flavouring, adding that tons of ginger will go into making a few millimetres of flavour.

Most health products, such as ginger tea and even comfort foods like Joe & Seph's ginger bread popcorn and Lakeland's artisan stem ginger ice cream contain real ginger, so although on a small scale, consumers are benefiting from ginger's health credentials.

Can the ginger revival last?

As more ginger products are brought on to the market Sopher believes this will feed into the popularity of other ginger infused products. He says: "If new products are marketed quite well it could become even more popular, as they then start fuelling each other."

"Brands such as Crabbie's ginger beer, artisan popcorn maker Joe & Seph and Tropical Sun have revived ginger."

He adds that Joe & Seph's may produce more ginger flavoured products in the future: "If anything, we will try and experiment more with ginger over the next year or so and see if there is another flavour combinations people might identify with."

The ginger revolution could take off further in 2013 but the trend is likely to remain in the UK as it is a particularly British-centric trend that appeals to the UK's thirst for unusual foods.

Chris Coughlan, MD of Lakenham Creamery Ltd, who created a stem ginger ice cream at his clients' request, says: "It has certainly gained popularity...British people like diverse foods, our most popular food is curry."

No doubt the UK food processing industry can expect more experimental fiery root flavoured products spicing up old and new products alike in 2013.

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