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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 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.