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Updated on June 3, 2010
Photo by Jan Schone
Photo by Jan Schone

Ginger is a tropical perennial herb (Zingiber officinale) of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae), extensively grown for its aromatic rhizomes. It probably originated in tropical Asia and has long been cultivated in many tropical countries.

It is widely cultivated in the tropics for its edible root-stocks. The term "ginger" is also used for a sharp-tasting and strong-smelling spice made from the rootstocks.

The rhizomes (underground stems) are used for flavoring foods and beverages and to a lesser extent as an ingredient in medicinal preparations to help digestion. Ginger was one of the first spices introduced into Europe and for a long time ranked second in importance only to black pepper. It was a popular flavoring for pies, cakes, and many other dishes. It is also used to make ginger beer. Ginger ale is a carbonated beverage flavored with ginger extract.

A type of candy, known as preserved ginger, is made from young rootstocks. After they have been scraped, the rootstocks are cut into pieces and are preserved by covering them with sugar or by boiling them in sugar or honey syrup.

Ginger Plant

Ginger plants grow to a height of 2 to 3 feet (60-90 cm). The above-ground stems bear stalk-less leaves, up to 20 cm long and about 2 cm wide. The flowers, clustered into spikes, are pale green, with yellow margins. Some have purple or yellow spots. The flowers are sterile, and ginger is always reproduced by vegetative methods.

The common ginger (Zingiber officinale) grows to a height of about 3 feet. It has narrow grasslike leaves, 6 to 12 inches long. Its orchid-like flowers are yellowish green and are marked with purple.

Ginger roots are usually dug up when the plant is about ten months old. They are then treated in various ways to obtain different kinds of spice ginger. To prepare unpeeled ginger, the rootstocks are washed in boiling water and are then dried in the sun. Peeled ginger is made by scraping the rootstock after it has been washed and then by drying it in the sun. Ground ginger is made by grinding the dried root.

The branching, fleshy rhizomes (commonly called "roots" or "hands") have a sweet, spicy, pungent flavor. They are marketed either fresh, preserved, or dried. Preserved ginger, also called candied ginger, is made by boiling young rhizomes in strong sugar solutions and then allowing the rhizomes to dry. Nearly all preserved ginger comes from China. Two types of dried ginger, black and green ginger, are sold unpeeled. Black ginger is prepared by scalding the rhizomes in boiling water before drying them. Green ginger is simply dried. Peeled ginger, which is also dried, is produced by scraping the rind (epidermal layer) from the scalded rhizomes.

Ground dried ginger is used as a flavoring in ginger ale, ginger beer, ginger tea, gingerbread, gingersnaps, pumpkin pies, and other baked goods. It is also employed as an ingredient in curry powder, as a seasoning for pot roasts and other meats and meat products, and as a pickling spice. The major exporters of dried ginger include India, Jamaica, China, Japan, and several countries of West Africa. The finest dried ginger comes from Jamaica.


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    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 5 years ago from Brazil

      I love ginger as well. I have planted some in my garden here in Brazil. It isn't always easy to find in the stores here.

      We love it in Chinese food and also in mango milkshakes!

      Interesting hub.

    • sharmanlow profile image

      sharmanlow 6 years ago

      i love ginger tea! even my kids love them.

    • profile image

      mib56789 6 years ago

      I posted a link to your article on a Facebook page I recently created called Everyday Exotic Spices and a link to your HUB profile. I had a Japanese friend who told me ginger would make a big difference in my cooking. For years I never tried her advice. I wasn't brave enough. Then one day I found a Chinese seasoning sauce that had ginger in it. I was HOOKED!

    • Autumn Lynn profile image

      Autumn Lynn 6 years ago from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

      I have a vitamix and I blend the heck out the ginger and use it as a scalp treatment. Improves the circulation to the scalp. I also make tea with honey all winter long. I could go on and on about my love for ginger!

    • PaperNotes profile image

      PaperNotes 7 years ago

      My late grandmother used to make a ginger tea, made of course with ginger, some sweet potato with added sugar boiled together. Not only did it taste good but it is also good for the vocal box.

    • profile image

      Nancy's Niche 7 years ago

      This is just the yummiest spice and it’s good for you too!

    • Paige Masters profile image

      Paige Masters 7 years ago

      I'm ALL over ginger, finally got my kids eating sushi with a side of this herb. Granted, they're only eating california rolls, but it's a start. Excellent hub!

    • lucieanne profile image

      lucieanne 7 years ago from Boston United Kingdom

      I love crystalised ginger. They sell it in health food shops. It's good for pregnant women who suffer from morning sickness too.

    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 7 years ago from West By God

      What's a "vegetative method"? Ginger is great in chicken dishes!

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country

      I like candied ginger as a small sweet snack. Yes it does have sugar, but altogether more healthful than candy. Bits of it are nice in your homebade trail mix with almonds, walnuts, etc.