Ginger is the rhisome or root of the ginger plant, known botanically as Zingiber officinale. The plant’s botanical name is thought to be derived from its Sanskrit name singabera which means “horn shaped,” a physical characteristic that ginger reflects. Ginger produces clusters of white and pink flower buds that blossom into pink or yellow flowers and the plants are often used for landscaping around subtropical homes.
The flesh of the rhizome can be yellow, white or red in color. It is covered with a thin, brownish skin that can be easily removed by using a paring knife or scraping it with a spoon. It adds a spicy, fragrant flavor to food.
Ginger is mentioned in ancient Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern writings, and has long been prized for its aromatic, culinary and medicinal properties. After the ancient Romans imported ginger from China almost two thousand years ago, its popularity in Europe remained centered in the Mediterranean region until the Middle Ages when its use spread throughout other countries.
Beginning in 1585, Jamaican ginger was the first oriental spice to be grown in the New World.
Although it is native to Southeast Asia, ginger is grown commercially today in Jamaica, India, Fiji, Indonesia and Australia.
Ginger has historically been shown to alleviate gastrointestinal distress, particularly motion sickness, especially dizziness, nausea, vomiting and cold sweating. In the April 2005 issue of the journal, Obstetrics and Gynecology, it is reported that eating ginger is also a safe, effective treatment for relieving the severity of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy.
Ginger also has anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols. This explains why people with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis experience reductions in their pain levels and improvements in their mobility when they consume ginger regularly.
Research studies also suggest that gingerols may also inhibit the growth of human colorectal cancer cells and may kill cancer cells in ovarian cancer. It is also used to treat heartworm in dogs!
Although ginger powder is available in the spice aisle of the grocery store, it is best to purchase fresh ginger root in the produce section as it has higher levels of gingerol. Ginger is also available in several other forms including crystallized, candied and pickled ginger (served as a condiment with sushi). Fresh ginger can be stored unpeeled in the refrigerator for up to three weeks or peeled and grated in the freezer for up to six months.
Ginger is used in cuisine all over the world. In Western cooking, ginger is traditionally used in sweet foods such as ginger ale, gingerbread, and ginger snap cookies. In India and Pakistan, fresh ginger is one of the main spices used for making pulse and lentil (dried legumes) curries and other vegetables. Fresh, as well as dried, ginger is used to spice tea and coffee, especially in winter.
In Bangladesh, ginger is finely chopped or ground into a paste to use as a base for chicken and meat dishes with onion and garlic. In China, sliced or whole ginger root is often paired with savory dishes such as fish, and chopped ginger root is commonly paired with meat and candied ginger is eaten as a sweet. Ginger beer, a nonalcoholic carbonated beverage is also popular in Jamaica and the U.S.
To add a little spice to your recipes, try adding ginger to maple syrup to make a glaze for meats and vegetables. Infuse it into milk and cream to make a tangy custard or ice cream. You can even add it to tomato sauces! The sweetness of the tomatoes is a nice counterpoint to the sharp, spicy notes of the ginger. Also try adding chopped, crystallized ginger to cookies or muffins for an extra treat.