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Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Zingiberaceae (ginger family)
Central Asia. Today, ginger is cultivated all over tropic and subtropic Asia (50% of the world's harvest is produced in India), in Brazil, Jamaica (whence the best quality is exported) and Nigeria, whose ginger is rather pungent, but lacks the fine aroma of other provenances.
Used plant part
The large, fleshy rhizome ("gingerroot", although it is not a root). In the fresh state, it has a characteristic staghorn-like appearance; dried ginger is usually sold in form of a off-white to very light brown powder.
Refreshing, lemon-like smell; pungent taste.
The essential oil (1 to 3% of the fresh rhizome) contains mostly sesquiterpenes, e.g., (-)-zingiberene (up to 70%), (+)-ar-curcumene ß-sesquiphellandrene, bisabolene and farnesene. Monoterpenoids occur in traces (ß-phelladrene, cineol, citral).
The pungency of ginger is caused by a non-volatile resin containing the same type of hydroxyaryl compounds that are also found in other spices of the ginger family: Zingerone, gingeroles and shoagoles.
Fresh ginger rhizome
World-wide, ginger is among the most important and valued spices. Today, the plant grows in tropic regions all over the world and plays part in the local cuisines. In Europe, however, it is not common, although it had been an important spice in Roman times (see silphion for more information about the taste of ancient Rome). Fresh ginger (also called green ginger) is now easily available in Western countries.
Many people like raw ginger, and this is the form most popular in South East Asia: Fresh ginger is grated or finely chopped, optionally soaked in water for several hours, and then added to the dish not long before serving. This kind of usage will result in a fresh, spicy and pungent taste. If fresh ginger is cooked, it will increase in pungency but decrease in freshness. Thais add grated ginger together with many other ingredients (in the the form of curry pastes) to their creamy coconut milk curries. Indonesians frequently use spice pastes based on fresh chiles and ginger to rub meat before grilling or baking. Ginger tea, prepared by cooking slices of fresh ginger for a few minutes, is a spicy and healthy drink enjoyed in hot tropic climates (Indonesia), but also in the chill Himalayas (Sikkim).
Ginger ale is a soft drink that enjoys considerable popularity in the USA. Like root beer, it is not a fermented beer, but simply sugar, ginger extract and carbonated water. However, during the last centuries of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ginger has also been used to flavour true beer, i.e., the alcoholic beverage obtained by fermenting malt.
Dried ginger is not much used in regions where fresh ginger is traditionally available. The taste is more aromatic than pungent and has found some applications in Europe, especially for spicy crackers; it furthermore enhances the taste of tasty gravies and soups.
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