Strong, piquant and spicy flavor. Used worldwide.
Europeans use ginger essentially in sweet dishes; in baking, they add it to cakes, biscuits, pastries or cookies, jams, and preserves. Ginger is also added to pickles, ale and cordials. Ginger is added in Indian cuisine to almost every savory dish; very much liked with vegetables and essential in curries. Chinese and Japanese cuisines consider ginger equally important, but they prefer adding it to meat and fish dishes.
Ginger was first cultivated in China and India. It was one of the first spices to travel west, leading to the opening of the spice trade routes. It became popular and as valued as medicinal and cooking spice. Ginger’s hot, spicy flavor is familiar to many from cookies and gingerbread.
How to Identify ginger
Ginger is the rhizome of a perennial tropical plant. The ginger plant looks like reed, about 3 ft (1 m) high, with blade shaped bright green leaves and yellow flowers sporting a purple border. The rhizome is bulbous, dark brown to light beige in color.
Probably natural to south eastern Asia, but no one can tell for sure how old ginger is, or where it came from. It's never been found in the wild.
Fresh ginger - easy to find in most grocery stores and supermarkets, varies in shape and size, but it is bulbous. Pale colored rhizomes are considered finer than dark ones. Its strong flavor feels pleasing and invigorating.
Dried ginger - it can be found as a dark skinned root or as a parboiled, peeled, limed, and bleached one; hard and stringy.
Ground ginger - dried ginger ground to a buff colored powder. Commercial ground ginger does not taste like fresh ginger at all, probably due to the addition of inferior varieties.
Stem ginger - young and tender rhizomes preserved in syrup -red, yellow or brown.
Candied ginger - young rhizomes submerged in sweet syrup, dried and crystallized. Used as a sweet.
How to use and store
Fresh ginger is frequently added to fish, meat and vegetable dishes in Oriental cooking.
Dried ginger flavors pickles, chutneys, ginger beer or wine.
Ground ginger is used in baking; you will find it in gingerbreads, cookies, and cake mixes, sweet puddings and jams, as an unexpected flavoring for melon or fruit. Ground ginger can also be added to pickles and chutneys.
Preserved ginger flavors cakes, puddings and ice cream.
The flavor of fresh ginger and ground ginger are a world apart.To use fresh ginger, just cut a piece of the desired size, peel if you must, and then grate, crush, mince or slice as per recipe. Wrap the un-peeled root in film and store in the fridge; it will keep for up to six weeks. You can preserve ginger in dry sherry or vodka. You can also cut fresh ginger it into chunks and freeze them, then grate from frozen. Fresh green ginger does not need peeling but feel free to do it before freezing, we recommend to peel older ginger as the skin would be thick and stringy.
Store dried ginger in an airtight container and keep it in the dark. It is added whole when cooking and removed when the flavor has infused the dish. Pounding it with a rolling pin before adding it to a dish will relax the fibers and help to release the flavor.
As with most spices, buy ground ginger in small quantities and use it quickly. Its flavor and aroma wane before you could think. If you are serious about flavor, make your own ground ginger: grind dried ginger in a spice mill and pass it through a sieve to get rid of the fibrous bits.
Cooking with ginger
Try pan fried salmon with ginger; this way to cook fish is typical in Chinese cooking and you could prepare fresh tuna steaks, cod, haddock, or sea bass fillets in the same way. You can stir-fry crab with ginger for a new flavor. If you have kids, surely they would appreciate gingerbread or ginger cookies more than a stir-fry.
If a recipe calls for a form of ginger and you don't have it, see ginger substitutions.
Ginger is as versatile as garlic and it goes well with fish, try your own version of ginger-garlic shrimp using fresh ginger instead of chili in the popular Spanish recipe. Prepare garlic-ginger chicken the same way, using diced chicken breast -strips will also do- instead of shrimp.
Ginger has been present in western cuisines for centuries always dried or powdered; green or fresh ginger is a modern addition, its popularity increasing in direct proportion to the fascination with oriental cooking.
The origin of the name ginger is in the Sanskrit word "sinabera" meaning "in the shape of a horn." Ginger truly resembles an antler.
English pubs in the 19th century used to keep a shaker with ginger on the counter so the customers could sprinkle some into their drinks. Ginger beer and ginger ale derive from this tradition.
How to grow
Ginger is cultivated in tropical regions where there is a noticeable difference between the wet and dry seasons. Though it is a perennial plant, it is grown as an annual. When rhizomes are divided, plant shoots come out about 10 days later. Ginger will be ready to harvest 7-10 months later.
zingiber officinalis (zyngiberaceae) - ginger