Ginjan People

Motherland Anywhere

I spent the weekend discussing some new information on my wife’s ancestry. Last year we both sent in a vial of saliva to the leading DNA research company 23andMe. We chose 23andMe for a variety of reasons, mostly because their database is the largest available and because they allow integration with many different specialist DNA research companies such as DNAFit and Athletigen, both of whom offer to take your 23andMe personal DNA report and analyze it to help customers “understand how their DNA affects their response to exercise and nutrition changes, to change the way we train and eat.”

My own DNA report really wasn’t much of a surprise: I’m 97% European. Breaking that down further, my ancestry is 51.4% British/Irish and 32.9% Broadly Northwestern European. No surprises there. In fact the only surprise, which has been a constant source of fun ever since, is that I have more Neanderthal gene variants than 95% of other 23andMe customers.

However, 23andMe’s ancestry report was frustratingly vague when it came to my wife, who is African-American. While it was quite definitive that she has 100% fewer Neanderthal gene variants than other 23andMe customers (not surprising – Neanderthals weren’t in Africa), so far as her African ancestry is concerned all that she discovered was that she’s 83% West African.

23andMe Ancestry composition report

 

A first cousin had spent some time researching family history and traced at least one ancestor back to Senegal; later research led to Ghana, but her search for something definitive as to her roots was still pending. As an aside, my father in law’s 23andMe report generated much excitement as he was found to have an ancient Y chromosome that’s supposedly 340,000 years old (see this story about another African American man with this Y chromosome).

Luckily, however, the DNA analysis business is vibrant and several new players have emerged, including DNA Land, a non-profit run by academics affiliated with Columbia University and the NY Genome Center. My wife shared her 23andMe data with DNA Land and eagerly awaited the new report. She received it over the weekend; it contained much more detail and quite a few surprises (yes, she’s part pygmy). The report agreed with 23andMe that she is genetically 83% African, but DNA Land only associates her with West Africa 70% (East Africa 9.2%, Aka 3.7%).  The biggest surprise was that her DNA suggests most of her ancestors lived in what is now modern-day Nigeria (Lower Niger Valley). You can see the chart below.

 

DNA Land Ancestry composition report

 

The discussion flowed over from the weekend into Ginjan Bros weekly staff meeting where we started discussing the origins of Ginjan. Mohammed and Rahim Diallo, the company founders (the brothers in Ginjan Bros.) grew up in Guinea where ginger was a staple in their diet, often in the form of the traditional ginger juice common in Guinea, locally known as “Ginjan” (spelling varies – Ginjan is our proprietary version). Ginger drinks weren’t (and still aren’t) something you’d go to the shops to purchase; rather they were made at home and in restaurants with each family hewing to a traditional formulation handed down as part of an oral tradition over many generations. Because of this, the taste of ginger juice varies widely from village to village and house to house. So far as Mohammed and Rahim were concerned, though, their mom’s juice was by far the best and it’s her formula that formed the basis of our company’s flagship product today, GINJAN.

While Guineans may think that ginger juice is original to their country, in actual fact there are many variations throughout West Africa, where ginger root is widely cultivated and is a dominant spice in local cuisine. Ginger juice can be found throughout villages and cities in creatively recycled vegetable-oil bottles. It’s often called ginger beer, but it’s non-alcoholic.

West African ginger is extra strong, so some formulations will have your eyes watering, while others go very heavy on the sugar. Ultimately it’s a matter of taste and that varies from country to country, village to village, and in all honesty person to person. One thing we’ve found, though, is that Ginjan Bros. GINJAN is consistently popular with people from countries with a strong tradition of ginger consumption (Africa, Asia, the Caribbean) as well as those from countries where ginger is imported (Europe, North America).

Ginjan and Sugar – Some Insights

Over the last few weeks I’ve had the pleasure of watching an expert at work. Victoria Hewitt has conducted dozens of Ginjan tastings at supermarkets and grocery stores all over Manhattan and Brooklyn, covering lots of different neighborhoods and spanning the incredibly diverse population of New York City.

 

The Ginjan demo station

Victoria Hewitt preparing to sell out a store’s supply of Ginjan.

 

“Hi Honey, would you like to try Ginjan? It’s an amazing African ginger and pineapple drink,” she’ll say as busy shoppers stream through the stores. Her smile is arresting and many of them stop and taste Ginjan, either cold or, in these frigid months, hot from a Thermos flask that Victoria brings along. Her record is remarkable: by the time she leaves nearly every store has empty slots in the cold-pressed beverages refrigerated shelving area where Ginjan had been stocked.

 

People ask us about the sugar in Ginjan

 

There are usually some questions about the drink that Victoria handles with ease, but one recurring theme relates to sugar content. It’s no secret that sugar is the new fat, demonized by doctors and media alike. It’s also not a secret that Ginjan’s proprietary formula of all-organic, non-GMO ingredients includes cane sugar and, of course, naturally occurring sugars from pineapples. How can Ginjan Bros. claim that their flagship product, Ginjan, is healthy given the sugar content, you might ask. It’s something we’ve thought a lot about and the short answer is, it’s complicated!

The first thing to note is that if you are on an uncompromising, absolutely zero sugar diet, then Ginjan isn’t something you’re going to want to consume at this time. If, on the other hand, you’re just careful to limit the amount of sugar or carbohydrates in your diet, or you are diabetic or pre-diabetic, we have potentially good news based on some recent studies on the myriad beneficial properties of our lead ingredient, ginger.

diabetes.co.uk reports that:

Researchers from the University of Sydney, Australia, found that extracts from Buderim Ginger (Australian grown ginger) rich in gingerols – the major active component of ginger rhizome – can increase uptake of glucose into muscle cells without using insulin, and may therefore assist in the management of high blood sugar levels.

 

And as reported in TIME Magazine, a review published in The Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences,

examined the findings of 60 studies, performed on cell cultures, lab animals and humans. Overall, these studies “have built a consensus that ginger and its major constituents exert beneficial effects against obesity, diabetes, [cardiovascular diseases] and related disorders.

In fact, ginger is an incredible overall health aid; GreenMedInfo.com reports that

there are over 2100 published studies on the medicinal properties of ginger in the scientific literature, and the Greenmedinfo.com database contains evidence that it has value in over 170 different health conditions, and has over 50 different beneficial physiological effects. Notably, of all the conditions the research on ginger we have indexed reveals its therapeutic value for, type 2 diabetes is top on the list, with seven studies on our database providing proof of its efficacy.

We’re not medical professionals, so these articles are referenced as a starting point for you to discuss with your doctor. Having said that, it’s beyond dispute that ginger offers multiple health benefits, blood sugar management potentially being one of them.

One last thought: new research reported by The Guardian suggests that:

Artificial sweeteners, which many people with weight issues use as a substitute for sugar, may increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to research… ‘This study supports the concept that artificial sweeteners could reduce the body’s control of blood sugar levels and highlights the potential for exaggerated post-meal glucose levels in high habitual NAS [non-caloric artificial sweeteners] users, which could predispose them to develop type 2 diabetes,’ said the authors.

Ginjan Bros. believes in all organic, non-GMO natural ingredients, fully disclosed. We’ll keep bringing you more information about the properties of Ginjan in the coming months. Here’s to your health!

 

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult your doctor before relying on any of the information above.