What is it? A bulb of fresh ginger resembles nothing so much as a mutant potato, some odd specimen with knobby stalks growing off of it in all directions. It is an odd sight, to be sure. Not exactly ginger-coloured, ginger's rough-textured outer skin is really a pale brownish hue and its juicy flesh a buff yellow. The part we eat or use for medicinal purposes is the rhizome - the underground stem - of the ginger plant. Known for its pungent scent and flavour, ginger originated in Asia but nowadays the herb is commercially grown around the world, including in Jamaica, India, Australia, and Fiji.

What is it good for? As a food, ginger adds zip to a dish or drink without adding calories. It's also a good source of vitamin B6 and the minerals potassium, magnesium, copper, and manganese. And for ages, ginger has found its way into folk remedies around the world. Though conclusive scientific evidence is scant, generations of people have counted on ginger to help prevent flu and colds and to relieve sore throat, headaches, and fatigue. Research is ongoing to determine whether ginger lives up to its potential as an immunity-booster, an anti-inflammatory agent, or an antioxidant food.

Above all else, ginger has long been hailed as a digestive aid, helpful in staving off the nausea and vomiting triggered by motion sickness, chemotherapy, surgery, and - most notably - pregnancy. In fact, studies show that using ginger on a short-term basis to relieve pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting can be effective and safe.

What does it taste like? Ginger's flavour is as unique as its appearance. Spicy, aromatic, and warm, ginger zaps your taste buds like nothing else. It can be sliced, minced, grated, and julienned, pickled, candied, and crystallized. Shave off two half-inch slices right from the bulb and steep in hot water to make a fresh ginger tea. Grate into a stir-fry or vegetable sauté - at the beginning of cooking for a more subtle flavour or near the end for more ginger-zing.

When deciding between fresh or dried ginger, consider that the fresher stuff bears a stronger flavour. Select a bulb that is firm, smooth, and free of mould. To store, keep ginger unpeeled and place it in a zip-top plastic bag. This way, it can keep in the refrigerator for a few weeks and in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Amy Toffelmire