Ginger is the common name for the monocotyledonous perennial plant Zingiber officinale, an erect plant in the Zingiberaceae family that is widely cultivated for its edible, underground rhizome (horizontal stem). The term also is used to refer to this pungent, aromatic rhizome, which is commonly dried and prepared as a popular spice, and is sometimes referred to as gingerroot. In a broader sense, the term ginger can be applied to all plants in the genus Zingiber (the "true gingers"), and the Zingiberaceae family is known as the "ginger family."
There also are some other plants that utilize the term ginger as part of their common name. One in the Zingiberaceae family is galangal (Alpinia sp.) which is known as blue ginger or Thai ginger, and is used for similar purposes as Zingiber officinale. 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.
Ginger is one of the world's more well-known and useful plants, being used for centuries as a spice for flavoring food and as a medicinal plant. Ginger ale is an example of a currently popular beverage that includes ginger and also utilizes ginger's reputation as a digestive aid, a property that was utilized even in ancient Greece (Crawford and Odle 2005). Ginger also is used as an ornamental plant for landscaping.
Ginger provides value for humans that goes beyond simple utilitarian values, such as nutrition or medicine (so important for survival and reproduction), to touch upon the human internal desire for beauty and to experience a variety of tastes and textures. Human creativity is reflected in the human discovery of the value of ginger and in its being utilized in so many different products.
Zingiberaceae, the "ginger family," is a family of flowering plants consisting of aromatic perennial plants with creeping horizontal or tuberous rhizomes. A rhizome is a horizontal stem that is usually found underground, often sending out roots and shoots from its nodes. Some plants have rhizomes that grow above ground or that sit at the soil surface. Rhizomes, which also may be referred to as creeping rootstalks or rootstocks, differ from stolons in that a rhizome is the main stem of the plant, has short internodes, and sends out roots from the bottom of the nodes and new upward-growing shoots from the top of the nodes; a stolon sprouts from an existing stem, has long internodes, and generates new shoots at the end (e.g., the strawberry plant).
The Zingiberaceae family comprises over 50 genera and more than 1,300 species, distributed throughout tropical Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Members of the family have distichous leaves with basal sheaths that overlap to form a pseudostem. The plants are either self-supporting or epiphytic. Flowers are hermaphroditic, usually strongly zygomorphic, in determinate cymose inflorescences, and subtended by conspicuous, spirally arranged bracts. The perianth is comprised of two whorls, a fused tubular calyx, and a tubular corolla with one lobe larger than the other two. Flowers typically have two of their stamenoids (sterile stamens) fused to form a petaloid lip, and have only one fertile stamen. The ovary is inferior and topped by two nectaries, the stigma is funnel-shaped.
The genus Zingiber contains the true gingers, many of which have medicinal and culinary value in many parts of the world. Each ginger species has a different culinary usage; for example, myoga is valued for the stem and flowers.
The most well-known member of Zingiber is Z. officinale, also known as garden ginger. It is an erect plant, that grows three to four feet tall (0.9 - 1.2 meters), and has thin, sharp leaves that are six to 12 inches long (15 - 30 centimeters) (Crawford and Odle 2005). It has yellowish-green flowers that grow in dense spikes and a tangled, branched, scaly, beige "root" (rhizome) that can be one to six inches long (2.5 - 15 cm) and is aromatic, with a sharp, pungent taste (Crawford and Odle 2005). The flesh ranges in color from a pale greenish yellow to ivory (Herbst 2001). This rhizome usually is dried and ground to produce a spice for various dishes, or may be used fresh in cooking, and oil also is extracted for use.
Ginger is composed of about 50 percent starch, 9 percent protein, 6-8 percent lipids (glycerides, fatty acids, phosphatidic acid, lecithins, etc.), a little over 2 percent protease, 1-3 percent volatile oils (gingerol, shogoal, zingiberene, and zingiberol), as well as vitamin A and niacin (Crawford and Odle 2005).
Ginger contains up to 3 percent of an essential oil that causes the fragrance of the spice. The main constituents are sesquiterpenoids with (-)-zingiberene as the main component. Lesser amounts of other sesquiterpenoids (β-sesquiphellandrene, bisabolene, and farnesene) and a small monoterpenoid fraction (β-phelladrene, cineol, and citral) have also been identified.
The pungent taste of ginger is due to nonvolatile phenylpropanoid-derived compounds, particularly gingerols and shogaols. The latter are formed from the former when ginger is dried or cooked. Zingerone is also produced from gingerols during this process, and it is less pungent and has a spicy-sweet aroma (McGee 2004).
The volatile oil gingerol and other pungent principles not only give ginger its pungent aroma, but also are the most medicinally powerful because they inhibit prostaglandin and leukotriene formations, which are products that influence blood flow and inflammation (Crawford and Odle 2005).
Ginger is also a minor chemical irritant, and because of this was used as a horse suppository by pre-World War I mounted regiments for figging (irritation causing the tail of the horse to stand upright for display purposes).
Ginger has a sialagogue action, stimulating the production of saliva.
The ginger plant has a long history of cultivation, probably native to South Asia and likely China, but now cultivated in many tropical and semi-tropical areas, including India, Australia, Japan, West Africa, and the Caribbean (LMDBL 2002).
Herbst (2001) reports that most ginger in the United States comes from Jamaica, followed by India, Africa, and China. According to the Food And Agricultural Organization of United Nations, in 2005, China lead the world in ginger production with a global share of almost 25 percent followed by India, Nepal, and Indonesia.
|Top Ten Ginger Producers—2005|
|Country||Production (Int $1000)||Footnote||Production (MT)||Footnote|
|People's Republic of China||133,811||C||275,000||F|
|No symbol = official figure,F = FAO estimate, * = Unofficial figure, C = Calculated figure;|
Production in Int $1000 have been calculated based on 1999-2001 international prices
Ginger is popular as a spice for flavoring food, while the oil of ginger may be used for perfume and medicine. Historically, ginger has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes, often as a digestive aid, but also for other ailments. In addition, the plant has ornamental value for landscaping.
|Ginger root, raw|
Nutritional value per 100 g
|Energy 20 kcal 80 kJ|
|Percentages are relative to US|
recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient database
As a spice for culinary purposes, gingerroot may be used fresh (grated, ground, or slivered) or dried and ground (Herbst 2001). Fresh ginger comes in the two forms of young ginger or mature ginger (Herbst 2001).
Young ginger rhizomes, also called spring ginger, are juicy and fleshy with a very mild taste, and have a thin skin that does not have to be peeled. They are often pickled in vinegar or sherry as a snack or just cooked as an ingredient in many dishes. They can also be stewed in boiling water to make ginger tea, to which honey is often added as a sweetener; sliced orange or lemon fruit may also be added.
Mature ginger roots are fibrous and nearly dry, with a tough skin that must be carefully removed to preserve the delicate flesh just under the skin (Herbst 2001). If the skin is wrinkled, that usually indicates that the root is dry and past its prime; smooth skin is an indicator of a more desirable state (Herbst 2001). The juice from old ginger roots is extremely potent and is often used as a spice in Chinese cuisine to flavor dishes such as seafood or mutton.
Powdered dry ginger root (ginger powder) is typically used to add spiciness to gingerbread and other recipes. Ground and fresh ginger taste quite different and ground ginger is a poor substitute for fresh ginger. Fresh ginger can be successfully substituted for ground ginger and should be done at a ratio of 6 parts fresh for 1 part ground. Fresh, unpeeled ginger can be refrigerated up to three weeks if tightly wrapped and up to six months if frozen (Herbst 2001).
Ginger is also made into candy and used as a flavoring for cookies, crackers, and cake, and is the main flavor in ginger ale—a sweet, carbonated, non-alcoholic beverage, as well as the similar, but somewhat spicier beverage ginger beer. Candied or crystallized ginger is prepared by cooking it in a sugar syrup and coating with sugar.
Regional culinary uses
In Western cuisine, ginger is traditionally restricted to sweet foods, such as ginger ale, gingerbread, ginger snaps, ginger cake, and ginger biscuits. A ginger-flavored liqueur called Canton is produced in Jarnac, France. Green 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.
In Arabic, ginger is called Zanjabil and in some parts of the Middle East ginger powder is used as a spice for coffee.
In India, ginger is called "Aadu" in Gujarati, "Shunti" in Kannada language[Karnataka], Allam in Telugu, Inji in Tamil and Malayalam, Alay in Marathi, and Adrak in Hindi and Urdu. Fresh ginger is one of the main spices used for making pulse and lentil curries and other vegetable preparations. It is used fresh to spice tea, especially in winter. Also, ginger powder is used in certain food preparations that are made particularly for expecting women and feeding mothers, the most popular one being Katlu which is a mixture of gum resin, ghee, nuts, and sugar. (However, notice precautions below regarding use by pregnant women.)
In south India, ginger is used in the production of a candy called Inji-murappa ("ginger candy" from Tamil). This candy is mostly sold by vendors to bus passengers in bus stops and in small tea shops as a locally produced item. Candied ginger is also very famous around these parts. Additionally, in Tamil Nadu, especially in the Tanjore belt, a variety of ginger that is less spicy is used when tender to make fresh pickle with the combination of lemon juice or vinegar, salt, and tender green chillies. This kind of pickle was generally made before the invention of refrigeration and stored for a maximum of four to five days. The pickle gains a mature flavor when the juices cook the ginger over the first 24 hours. Ginger is also added as a flavoring in tea.
In Burma, ginger is used in a salad dish called gyin-tho, which consists of shredded ginger preserved in oil, and a variety of nuts and seeds.
Indonesia has a famous beverage that called Wedang Jahe, which is made from ginger and palm sugar; Indonesians also use ground ginger root, called jahe or djahe, as a frequent ingredient in local recipes.
In traditional Korean kimchi, ginger is finely minced and added to the ingredients of the spicy paste just before the fermenting process.
In China, sliced or whole ginger root is often paired with savory dishes, such as fish. However, candied ginger is sometimes a component of Chinese candy boxes, and an herbal tea can also be prepared from ginger.
Crawford and Odle (2005) report that ginger historically was used to aid digestion, with even ancient Greeks eating it wrapped in bread as an after dinner digestive. This lead to the creation of gingerbread; later, the English developed ginger beer as a means to soothe the stomach (Crawford and Odle 2005). Ginger ale and ginger beer both have been recommended as "stomach settlers" for generations in countries where the beverages are made or sold. There have indeed been a number of research studies that have indicated that ginger is useful in aiding digestion (Crawford and Odle 2005).
The characteristic odor and flavor of ginger root is caused by a mixture of zingerone, shoagoles, and gingerols, volatile oils that compose about one to three percent of the weight of fresh ginger. In laboratory animals, the gingerols increase the motility of the gastrointestinal tract and have analgesic, sedative, antipyretic, and antibacterial properties (O'Hara et al. 1998). As an antibacterial, ginger is thought to fight harmful bacteria in the human stomach without killing beneficial bacteria (Crawford and Odle 2005). The Japanese use it as an antidote to fish poisoning, such as with sushi (Crawford and Odle 2005).
Ginger compounds are active against a form of diarrhea, which is a leading cause of infant death in developing countries. Research on rats suggests that ginger may be useful for treating diabetes (Al-Amin et al. 2006; Afshari et al. 2007). Zingerone is likely to be the active constituent against enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli heat-labile enterotoxin-induced diarrhea (Chen et al. 2007).
Ginger has been found effective by multiple studies for treating nausea caused by seasickness, morning sickness, and chemotherapy (Ernst and Pittler 2000), though ginger was not found superior over a placebo for post-operative nausea. There also are clinical studies that ginger can help suppress nausea and vomiting associated with pregnancy, but it is not recommended because of the possibility of miscarriage. (See precautions below.)
The medical form of ginger historically was called "Jamaica ginger"; it was classified as a stimulant and carminative, and used frequently for dyspepsia and colic. It was also frequently employed to disguise the taste of medicines.
Ginger may have blood thinning and cholesterol lowering properties that may make it useful for treating heart disease (UMMC 2006). Ginger is thought to lower cholesterol by impairing cholesterol absorption, assist conversion of cholesterol to bile acids, and then increasing bile elimination; research showed rabbits had a smaller amount of atherosclerosis (Crawford and Odle 2005).
There are a variety of other uses suggested for ginger. Tea brewed from ginger is a folk remedy for colds, and ginger water was commonly used to avoid heat cramps in the US. In China, a drink made with sliced ginger cooked in sweetened water or a cola is used as a folk medicine for common cold (Jakes 2007). Ginger also may decrease joint pain from arthritis, though studies on this have been inconsistent. Ginger has also been historically used to treat inflammation, which several scientific studies support, though one arthritis trial showed ginger to be no better than a placebo or ibuprofen (UMMC 2006).
Ginger is on the United States Food and Drug Administration's "generally recognized as safe" list. Although ginger is generally recognized as safe by the FDA, it is not approved for the treatment or cure of any disease and is sold as an unregulated dietary supplement. Ginger does interact with some medications, including warfarin, which is a blood thinner (Crawford and Odle 2005). Ginger also can interfere with the absorption of tetracycline, digoxin, phenothiazines, and sulfa drugs (Crawford and Odle 2005). Ginger is contraindicated in people suffering from gallstones as the herb promotes the release of bile from the gallbladder (Al-Achi; Mayo 2006).
Some studies indicate that ginger taken in high amounts might cause miscarriages, and thus are not recommended for pregnant woman, and dosages over 6 grams can cause gastric problems and possibly ulcers (Crawford and Odle 2005).
Allergic reactions to ginger generally result in a rash and though generally recognized as safe, ginger can cause heartburn, bloating, gas, belching, and nausea, particularly if taken in powdered form. Unchewed fresh ginger may result in intestinal blockage, and individuals who have had ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease or blocked intestines may react badly to large quantities of fresh ginger (Mayo 2006). There are also suggestions that ginger may affect blood pressure, clotting, and heart rhythms (Mayo 2005).
Ginger produces clusters of white and pink flower buds that bloom into yellow flowers. Because of the aesthetic appeal and the adaptivity of the plant to warm climates, ginger is often used as landscaping around subtropical homes. It is a perennial reed-like plant with annual leafy stems.
Historically, it seems that primarily two different methods of treating the root to kill it and prevent sprouting have been used: when the stalk withers, it either is immediately scalded, or washed and scraped. The former method, applied generally to the older and poorer roots, produces Black Ginger; the latter, gives White Ginger. The natural color of the "white" scraped ginger is a pale buff—it is often whitened by bleaching or liming, but generally at the expense of some of its real value.
- Zingiber officinale information from NPGS/GRIN www.ars-grin.gov. Retrieved May 1, 2008.
- Food And Agricultural Organization of United Nations: Economic And Social Department: The Statistical Division, Food And Agricultural Organization of United Nations. Retrieved May 1, 2008.
- Afshari, A. T., et al. 2007. The effect of ginger on diabetic nephropathy, plasma antioxidant capacity and lipid peroxidation in rats. Food Chemistry 101(1): 148-153. Retrieved April 8, 2008.
- Al-Achi, A. n.d. A current look at ginger use. US Pharmacist. Retrieved April 8, 2008.
- Al-Amin, Z. M. et al. 2006. Anti-diabetic and hypolipidaemic properties of ginger (Zingiber officinale) in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. British Journal of Nutrition 96: 660-666. Retrieved April 8, 2008.
- Chen, J.-C., L.-J. Huang, S.-L. Wu, S.-C. Kuo, T.-Y. Ho, and C.-Y. Hsiang. 2007. Ginger and its bioactive component inhibit enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli heat-labile enterotoxin-induced diarrhea in mice. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 55(21): 8390–8397. Retrieved April 8, 2008.
- Crawford, S., and T. G. Odle. 2005. Thyme. In J. L. Longe, ed., The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. Farmington Hills, Mich: Thomson/Gale. ISBN 0787693960.
- Ernst, E. and M. H. Pittler. 2000. Efficacy of ginger for nausea and vomiting: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials. British Journal of Anesthesia 84(3): 367–371. Retrieved April 8, 2008.
- Herbst, S. T. 2001. The New Food Lover's Companion: Comprehensive Definitions of Nearly 6,000 Food, Drink, and Culinary Terms. Barron's Cooking Guide. Hauppauge, NY: Barron's Educational Series. ISBN 0764112589.
- Jakes, S. 2007. Beverage of champions. Times on-line January 15, 2007. Retrieved April 8, 2008.
- Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library (LMDBL). 2002. Spices: Exotic flavors & medicines: Ginger. History and Special Collections, Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library, UCLA. Retrieved April 8, 2008.
- Mayo Clinic. 2008. [http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/ginger/NS_patient-ginger Drugs & supplements: Ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe). Mayoclinic.com. Retrieved April 8, 2008.
- McGee, H. 2004. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, 2nd ed. New York: Scribner. ISBN 0684800012.
- O' Hara, M., D. Kiefer, K. Farrell, and K. Kemper. 1998. A review of 12 commonly used medicinal herbs. Archives of Family Medicine 7: 523-536. Retrieved April 8, 2008.
- University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC). 2006. Ginger. University of Maryland Medical Center. Retrived April 8, 2008.
This article incorporates text from the public domain 1911 edition of The Grocer's Encyclopedia.
|Herbs and spices|
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