BOTANICAL NAME: zingiber officinale, syn Amoumum
FAMILY NAME: Zingiberacea
OTHER NAMES: Jamaican Ginger
The name is believed to come from the Sanskrit (an ancient Indo-Aryan language) singabera, meaning 'shaped like a horn', evolving to the Greek zingiberi and subsequently the Latin zingiber. Ginger has a long respected history as a spice. Its origins He in either India or China, where it was mentioned in 500 BC in the writings of the philosopher Confucius. Arab traders from the Orient introduced ginger lo Greece and Rome, and it is quite likely that the invading Romans carried it to Britain.
The ginger rhizome was easily transported, allowing the Arabs to introduce it to East Africa, and the Portuguese lo lake to West Africa in the I3th century. The Spanish expanded the trade by taking ginger lo Mexico and the West Indies, especially Jamaica, a country that still claims lo produce the best-quality ginger. By the 14th century, ginger was the most common spice after pepper.
The essential oil is used in commercial flavourings. Fresh root ginger is extremely popular in a huge variety of stir-fry or curry dishes. Authentically, fresh root ginger is used in a host of dishes from India and Oriental countries.
It is incorporated by different techniques: slices may be added to marinades or in cooking, to be discarded on the side of the plate or bowl as the food is eaten. Grated, chopped or crushed ginger is used in pastes or braised dishes. Finely shredded ginger is added to fried and stir-fried dishes, or it may be used raw in salads. Pickled and preserved types are served as appetizers or used in savoury cooking.
All these methods are employed to flavour fish and seafood, poultry, meat, vegetable and noodle dishes. Ginger is also widely appreciated in new cooking styles, for example with chicken and game in casseroles. Ginger is also essential in much Western baking, for example in traditional gingerbreads, cakes, biscuits (such as ginger snaps), French pain d'epice and German Pfefferkuchen. The spice is also important in chut-ncys, pickles, jams and sweet preserves as well as drinks, such as ginger beer, ginger ale and ginger wine. This spice flavours fish soups, sauces, breads (particularly rye bread}, cakes, biscuits and confectionery. Popular aniseed flavour drinks include French pastis, Pernod and Ricard, a liqueur called anisette, Spanish ojen, Turkish raki, Greek ouzo and Arab arrak.
The aroma when you cut into a piece of fresh root ginger has a hint of lemon, with a refreshing sharpness, Jamaica ginger is said to have the finest aroma, with the Kenyan spice being of good quality too. Other African and Indian gingers have a darker skin and a biting, less pleasant flavour.
The ginger plant is an upright tropical plant, which is propagated by dividing the rhizomes. It grows to about 0.9 metres/3 feet, with elegant lance-shaped leaves and yellow flowers lightly tinged with purple. Harvesting takes place 9 or 10 months after planting, and in many parts of the world this is still done by hand. Much of the crop is washed, sun dried and then ground to a powder for domestic and commercial use. The largest markets for ground ginger are the UK, Yemen, the USA, Middle East, Singapore and Malaysia. Large crops are grown in India, China, Taiwan, Nigeria, Jamaica and Mauritius; Australia is also now a significant producer.
Stem Ginger in Syrup
Dried Root Ginger
Fresh Root Ginger
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Henry VIII is said to have used ginger as a medicine for its qualities, as outlined by Culpeper, the herbalist, 150 years later: 'Ginger helps digestion, warms the stomach, clears the sight, and is profitable for old men; it heats the joints and is therefore useful against gout'. Ginger has an impressive record in treating all kinds of ailments: it is said to help poor circulation, and to cure flatulence and indigestion; it is taken as a drink for coughs, nausea and influenza. In the East ginger is chewed to ward off evil spirits. It is considered to be a cure for travel sickness. The essential oil is used in perfumery.