Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a flowering plant whose rhizome, ginger root or ginger, is widely used as a spice and a folk medicine. It is a herbaceous perennial which grows annual pseudostems (false stems made of the rolled bases of leaves) about a meter tall bearing narrow leaf blades. The inflorescences bear pale yellow with purple flowers and arise directly from the rhizome on separate shoots.
Ginger is in the family Zingiberaceae, to which also belong turmeric (Curcuma longa), cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum), and galangal. Ginger originated in Island Southeast Asia and was likely domesticated first by the Austronesian peoples. It was transported with them throughout the Indo-Pacific during the Austronesian expansion (c. 5,000 BP), reaching as far as Hawaii. Ginger was also one of the first spices exported from Asia, arriving in Europe with the spice trade, and was used by ancient Greeks and Romans. The distantly related dicots in the genus Asarum are commonly called wild ginger because of their similar taste.
The English origin of the word, "ginger", is from the mid-14th century, from Old English gingifer, from Medieval Latin gingiber, from Greek zingiberis, from Prakrit (Middle Indic) singabera, from Sanskrit srngaveram, from srngam "horn" and vera- "body", from the shape of its root. The word probably was readopted in Middle English from Old French gingibre (modern French gingembre).
Ginger originated from Island Southeast Asia. It is a true cultigen and does not exist in its wild state. The most ancient evidence of its domestication is among the Austronesian peoples where it was among several species of ginger cultivated and exploited since ancient times. The other notable gingers they also cultivated included turmeric (Curcuma longa), white turmeric (Curcuma zedoaria), and bitter ginger (Zingiber zerumbet), among others. The rhizomes and the leaves were used to flavor food or eaten directly. The leaves were also used to weave mats. Aside from these uses, ginger had religious significance among Austronesians, being used in rituals for healing and for asking protection from spirits. It was also used in the blessing of Austronesian ships.
Ginger was carried with them in their voyages as canoe plants during the Austronesian expansion, starting from around 5,000 BP. They introduced it to the Pacific Islands in prehistory, long before any contact with other civilizations. Reflexes of the Proto-Malayo-Polynesian word *laqia is still found in Austronesian languages all the way to Hawaii. They also presumably introduced it to India along with other Southeast Asian food plants and Austronesian sailing technologies, during early contact by Austronesian sailors with the Dravidian-speaking peoples of Sri Lanka and South India at around 3,500 BP. It was also carried by Austronesian voyagers into Madagascar and the Comoros in the 1st millennium CE.
From India, it was also carried by traders into the Middle East and the Mediterranean by around the 1st century CE. It was primarily grown in southern India and the Greater Sunda Islands during the spice trade, along with peppers, cloves, and numerous other spices.
Ginger produces clusters of white and pink flower buds that bloom into yellow flowers. Because of its aesthetic appeal and the adaptation of the plant to warm climates, it is often used as landscaping around subtropical homes. It is a perennial reed-like plant with annual leafy stems, about a meter (3 to 4 feet) tall. Traditionally, the rhizome is gathered when the stalk withers; it is immediately scalded, or washed and scraped, to kill it and prevent sprouting. The fragrant perisperm of the Zingiberaceae is used as sweetmeats by Bantu, and also as a condiment and sialagogue.
Source: Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, Statistics Division (FAOSTAT)
In 2016, global production of ginger was 3.3 million tonnes, led by India with 34% of the world total. Nigeria, China, and Indonesia also had substantial production.
Ginger produces a hot, fragrant kitchen spice. Young ginger rhizomes are juicy and fleshy with a mild taste. They are often pickled in vinegar or sherry as a snack or cooked as an ingredient in many dishes. They can be steeped in boiling water to make ginger herb tea, to which honey may be added. Ginger can be made into candy or ginger wine.
Mature ginger rhizomes are fibrous and nearly dry. The juice from ginger roots is often used as a seasoning in Indian recipes and is a common ingredient of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, and many South Asian cuisines for flavoring dishes such as seafood, meat, and vegetarian dishes.
Fresh ginger can be substituted for ground ginger at a ratio of six to one, although the flavors of fresh and dried ginger are somewhat different. Powdered dry ginger root is typically used as a flavoring for recipes such as gingerbread, cookies, crackers and cakes, ginger ale, and ginger beer. Candied ginger or crystallized ginger, known in the U.K. as "stem ginger", is the root cooked in sugar until soft, and is a type of confectionery. Fresh ginger may be peeled before eating. For longer-term storage, the ginger can be placed in a plastic bag and refrigerated or frozen.
In Indian cuisine, ginger is a key ingredient, especially in thicker gravies, as well as in many other dishes, both vegetarian and meat-based. Ginger also has a role in traditional Ayurvedic medicine. It is an ingredient in traditional Indian drinks, both cold and hot, including spiced masala chai. Fresh ginger is one of the main spices used for making pulse and lentil curries and other vegetable preparations. Fresh ginger together with peeled garlic cloves is crushed or ground to form ginger garlic masala. Fresh, as well as dried, ginger is used to spice tea and coffee, especially in winter. In south India, "sambharam" is a summer yogurt drink made with ginger as a key ingredient, along with green chillies, salt and curry leaves. Ginger powder is used in food preparations intended primarily for pregnant or nursing women, the most popular one being katlu, which is a mixture of gum resin, ghee, nuts, and sugar. Ginger is also consumed in candied and pickled form. In Japan, ginger is pickled to make beni shōga and gari or grated and used raw on tofu or noodles. It is made into a candy called shoga no sato zuke. In the traditional Korean kimchi, ginger is either finely minced or just juiced to avoid the fibrous texture and added to the ingredients of the spicy paste just before the fermenting process.
In Burma, ginger is called gyin. It is widely used in cooking and as a main ingredient in traditional medicines. It is consumed as a salad dish called gyin-thot, which consists of shredded ginger preserved in oil, with a variety of nuts and seeds. In Thailand' where it is called ขิง khing, it is used to make a ginger garlic paste in cooking. In Indonesia, a beverage called wedang jahe is made from ginger and palm sugar. Indonesians also use ground ginger root, called jahe, as a common ingredient in local recipes. In Malaysia, ginger is called halia and used in many kinds of dishes, especially soups. Called luya in the Philippines, ginger is a common ingredient in local dishes and is brewed as a tea called salabat. In Vietnam, the fresh leaves, finely chopped, can be added to shrimp-and-yam soup (canh khoai mỡ) as a top garnish and spice to add a much subtler flavor of ginger than the chopped root. 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, when it is cooked. Candied ginger is sometimes a component of Chinese candy boxes, and a herbal tea can be prepared from ginger. Raw ginger juice can be used to set milk and make a desert, ginger milk curd.
In the Caribbean, ginger is a popular spice for cooking and for making drinks such as sorrel, a drink made during the Christmas season. Jamaicans make ginger beer both as a carbonated beverage and also fresh in their homes. Ginger tea is often made from fresh ginger, as well as the famous regional specialty Jamaican ginger cake. On the island of Corfu, Greece, a traditional drink called τσιτσιμπύρα (tsitsibira), a type of ginger beer, is made. The people of Corfu and the rest of the Ionian islands adopted the drink from the British, during the period of the United States of the Ionian Islands.
In Western cuisine, ginger is traditionally used mainly in sweet foods such as ginger ale, gingerbread, ginger snaps, parkin, and speculaas. A ginger-flavored liqueur called Canton is produced in Jarnac, France. Ginger wine is a ginger-flavored wine produced in the United Kingdom, traditionally sold in a green glass bottle. Ginger is also used as a spice added to hot coffee and tea.
Other members of the family Zingiberaceae are used in similar ways. They include the myoga (Zingiber mioga), the several types of galangal, the fingerroot (Boesenbergia rotunda), and the bitter ginger (Zingiber zerumbet).
A dicotyledonous native species of eastern North America, Asarum canadense, is also known as "wild ginger", and its root has similar aromatic properties, but it is not related to true ginger. The plant contains aristolochic acid, a carcinogenic compound. The United States Food and Drug Administration warns that consumption of aristolochic acid-containing products is associated with "permanent kidney damage, sometimes resulting in kidney failure that has required kidney dialysis or kidney transplantation. In addition, some patients have developed certain types of cancers, most often occurring in the urinary tract."
Raw ginger is composed of 79% water, 18% carbohydrates, 2% protein, and 1% fat (table). In 100 grams (a standard amount used to compare with other foods), raw ginger supplies 80 Calories and contains moderate amounts of vitamin B6 (12% of the Daily Value, DV) and the dietary minerals, magnesium (12% DV) and manganese (11% DV), but otherwise is low in nutrient content (table).
When used as a spice powder in a common serving amount of one US tablespoon (5 grams), ground dried ginger (9% water) provides negligible content of essential nutrients, with the exception of manganese (70% DV).
If consumed in reasonable quantities, ginger has few negative side effects. It is on the FDA's "generally recognized as safe" list, though it does interact with some medications, including the anticoagulant drug warfarin and the cardiovascular drug nifedipine.
The characteristic fragrance and flavor of ginger result from volatile oils that compose 1-3% of the weight of fresh ginger, primarily consisting of zingerone, shogaols and gingerols with -gingerol (1--5-hydroxy-3-decanone) as the major pungent compound. Zingerone is produced from gingerols during drying, having lower pungency and a spicy-sweet aroma. Shagoals are more pungent and have higher antioxidant activity but not found in raw ginger, but is formed from gingerols during heating, storage or via acidity.
Fresh ginger also contains an enzyme zingibain which is a cysteine protease and has similar properties to rennet.
Evidence that ginger helps alleviate nausea and vomiting resulting from chemotherapy or pregnancy is inconsistent. There is no clear evidence of harm from taking ginger during pregnancy, although its safety has not been established. Ginger is not effective for treating dysmenorrhea, and there is insufficient evidence for it having analgesic properties due to the lack of well conducted trials. Available data provides weak evidence for its anti-inflammatory role and it may reduce the subjective experience of pain in osteoarthritis.
Allergic reactions to ginger generally result in a rash. Although generally recognized as safe, ginger can cause heartburn and other side effects, particularly if taken in powdered form. It may adversely affect individuals with gallstones and may interfere with the effects of anticoagulants, such as warfarin or aspirin.
Ginger flower about to bloom
Ginger flower overview
Ginger flower stamen
Ginger crop, Myanmar
Two varieties of ginger
Gari, a type of pickled ginger
German ginger-flavored wine (grape-based) with stem ginger decoration