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Ginger, or zingiber officinale, is a perennial plant having thick branching aromatic rhizomes and leafy reedlike stems. For centuries, ginger has been widely used as a spice throughout the world, especially in Asian countries. A native to China and India, this plant is widely cultivated in Southeast Asia, West Africa, and the Caribbean.It needs a minimum annual rainfall of 150cm, temperatures of 30°C or over, a short dry season and a deep fertile soil. Known for its slightly biting and hot flavour, this spice is widely used in preparing gingerbread, ginger ale, gingersnaps and Asian dishes. It adds delicacy to the dish by its rich, sweet, warm and woody aroma. The pungency in ginger is due to the presence of a volatile oil. The dried rhizome contains approximately 1—3% volatile oil which is the source of ginger's characteristic aroma; an oleoresin contains the pungent properties.

Spice Description

Often termed as “ginger root”, ginger is actually a rhizome. It is available in the following forms:

  • Fresh Ginger: The whole raw roots are referred to as fresh ginger. It has a pale yellow interior and a skin varying in colour from brown to off-white. It can be grated, chopped, or julienned for use
  • Dried Ginger: This form is usually found in whole fingers and also in slices. It is usually soaked in recipe liquid before using
  • Pickled Ginger: It has the root sliced paper-thin and pickled in a vinegar solution. Also referred as gari or beni shoga in Japan, this form often accompanies sushi, and is served to refresh the palate between courses
  • Preserved Ginger: Preserved or ‘stem’ ginger is made from fresh young roots, peeled and sliced, then cooked in a heavy sugar syrup. This form of ginger is generally used as a confection or added to desserts, and it is especially good with melons. It is soft and pulpy, but extremely hot and spicy
  • Crystallized Ginger: Also referred as candied ginger, this ginger form cooked in sugar syrup, then air dried and rolled in sugar. It is commonly used in desserts and can easily be made at home
  • Ground Ginger: Also referred to as powdered, this form of ginger is quite different than fresh, and is widely used in sweets and curry mixes.

Culinary Uses

Ginger is undoubtedly an essential ingredient to Asian and oriental cookery. It is used in pickles, chutneys and curry pastes and the ground dried root is a constituent of many curry powders. It is also used as a flavouring agent in preparing sweet dishes, cakes, cookies, breads, and beverages. Sometimes the roots will produce green sprouts which can be finely chopped and added to a green salad.

Pickled ginger is a delicious accompaniment to satays and a colourful garnish to many Chinese dishes. In the West, the dried ginger is mainly used in preparing confectionery items like biscuits and cakes. It is also used in puddings, jams, preserves and in some drinks like ginger beer, ginger wine and tea.

In Myanmar, ginger is used in a salad dish called 'Gyin-Tho', which consists of shredded ginger preserved in oil, and a variety of nuts and seeds. In traditional Korean Kimchi, ginger is minced finely and added into the ingredients of the spicy paste just before the fermenting process.

Medicinal Properties

Besides being used as a spice, ginger also contains natural healing properties. It has long been ascribed aphrodisiac powers, taken either internally or externally. It is highly effective in treating nausea, motion sickness, morning sickness and general stomach upset. Its anti-inflammatory properties help relieve pain and reduce inflammation associated with arthritis, rheumatism and muscle spasms.

Ginger root consists of gingerols, zingibain, bisabolenel, oleoresins, starch, essential oil (zingiberene, zingiberole, camphene, cineol, borneol), mucilage, and protein. It contains many therapeutic properties and is highly effective in stimulating the blood circulation, removing toxins from the body, cleansing the bowels and kidneys, and nourishing the skin. Other uses for Ginger Root include the treatment of asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory problems by loosening and expelling phlegm from the lungs.