Friday, May 29, 2015

How to Make Candied Ginger

As you may know, I'm a fan of “do-it-yourself” when it comes to the kitchen. Making your own food products is a great way to supplement your pantry, and can be cheaper than buying them ready made. It's easier than you might think. In keeping with the kitchen DIY spirit, I decided to take on candied ginger.

Candied ginger has three ingredients: ginger, sugar, and water. There are many recipes out there; I just happen to like this one. The advantages of making your own candied ginger are many. It tastes better than the supermarket stuff, for starters. In addition, the byproduct of making it is ginger syrup – a miraculous food stuff all on its own. Bonus!

Candied ginger can be added to so many things, cookies, cakes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pies … the list is long and illustrious. I've been told it's good for you, too. It's an old cure for nausea and seems to reduce gastric inflammation. Some people say it even has a positive effect on some cancers. I just like snacking on it. It's pungent, sweet, spicy, and really kicks your taste in the buds.

Ginger syrup is wonderful. Use it to sweeten teas (herbal in my case), or kick up cold drink – think mock ginger ale, ginger lemon-lime soda, or ginger cola. Pour it over pound cake instead of some other syrup or glaze. I like it on vanilla ice cream.

Note: Young, fresh ginger root is preferred because it's got a milder flavor and is more tender. The older ginger will work just fine, though.

Equipment Needed
chef's knife
spoon or vegetable peeler
chef's knife
medium saucepan
wire drying racks
rimmed baking sheet

2 ¼ cups sugar, separated
2 cups water
8 ounces of fresh ginger

Break the fingers of ginger apart, and peel them. You can use a vegetable peeler, but it easier to get around the knobbly bits by scraping it off with a spoon. Cut the peeled ginger into thin slices.

Place the wire cooling racks inside a rimmed baking sheet and set aside.

Combine 2 cups of the sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring it to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and it looks clear. Stir in the ginger slices. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until the ginger is tender and translucent, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes.

Drain the ginger using a strainer set over a large bowl to collect the syrup. Set the syrup aside to let it cool.

Transfer the ginger to the cooling rack. Spread the ginger pieces out a bit, so they don't touch each other. Let the ginger dry until it's no longer moist, but still a little tacky. This will take at least 6 hours, but should be done in no more than 12 hours.

Combine the dried ginger and the remaining ¼ cup of sugar in a large bowl, and toss until well coated. You'll have some sugar left over, that's okay. You can use it to sweeten your drinks or something.

This is where your patience will pay off. If you don't wait until the ginger is dry before you toss it with the additional sugar, you'll end up with gummy ginger pieces that will cement themselves together.

Candied ginger can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for about 2 weeks. Once the syrup is cooled, transfer to a jar and refrigerate.

Makes about ¾ cup of candied ginger, and about 2 cups of ginger syrup.

Looking at the cost
The joy of cooking aside, is it worth the cost and time? I have no idea how much electricity or natural gas this takes, so I can't account for that. Just keep it in mind as you read my cost breakdown.

The cheapest I found for a 16 oz bag of “crystallized ginger” was $4.99, or about 30 cents an ounce. From what I've been able to figure, there's about 6 oz of candied ginger per cup, so the yield of this recipe it about 4.5 oz. Commercially, that's about $1.40 worth of candied ginger. Keep in mind that this candied ginger isn't very chew-able. The more tender stuff, which is comparable with the candied ginger in this recipe, goes for as much as $11.99 a pound, or 75 cents per ounce. Compared to that product, making your own candied ginger comes in at about $2.53 worth of candied ginger.

Ginger root, at my local grocery, is $3.69 per pound, or 23 cents per oz. This recipe uses 8 oz of ginger, so that's $1.84. A 4 pound bag of sugar costs $1.50. At 2 cups of sugar per pound, that's about 38 cents worth of sugar. The total cost for the ingredients, then, is $2.22. Remember, that doesn't count the cost of heat or your time. It seems to only be cost effective if we're comparing it with the “good stuff.” With the added cost of heat and time, we're lucky to break even, so far.

Except we also get 2 cups of ginger syrup out of the bargain. Just like commercial candied ginger, the price of ginger syrup varies widely with the quality. Some of these syrups have all kinds of added preservatives and stabilizers and artificial flavors. I found the cost of ginger syrup varying from about 25 cents per oz, for the cheap stuff, to about $1.50 per oz, for the good stuff. At 16 oz, that means anywhere between $4.00 and $24.00 worth of ginger syrup. We get it for free, as a byproduct.

Okay, so at its lowest commercial cost, we're making at least $6.22 worth of gingery goodness for $2.22, plus the cost of the heat and time. That's a bit less than $4 savings, and that's comparing it to the cheap stuff. At best, we're making about $26.00 worth of product, that's a $20.00 savings. I don't think we're actually saving that much, but it suddenly seems a lot more cost effective to make it ourselves.

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