Ginger comes from the Sanskrit word shringavera, meaning "shaped like a deer's antlers". This word became zingiber in Latin, from where the French term gingembre appeared in the 13th century.
It is thought that zingiber originated in southern India and China, where it was used as a medicinal plant and food more than 5,000 years ago.
It was probably taken to the Mediterranean basin by the Phoenicians in the 4th century BC. The Ancient Egyptians used it in mummification. Greeks and Romans used it in cooking: Apicius included it in the "list of essential spices in a house in order to cater for every seasoning".
Ginger later spread throughout Europe.
It was taxed during the Roman Empire. It was also taxed during the Middle Ages, when it was used as much as pepper was. It is often mentioned in Viandier de Taillevent.
There was an inn in Bâle known as zum Ingwer in 1433. There is still a rue de Gingembre there.
It was used in the 16th century in England against the plague, and also appreciated in gingerbread, while the Spaniards imported it from the West Indies and Mexico.
Ginger appeared in the first recipes for pain d'épices (the French version of gingerbread) in the 16th and 17th centuries because it disguised the flavor of the flour, which was always stale at the time.
A ginger root should be very firm, light brown in color, and free from bluish blemishes and mold.
The younger the plant, the juicier the root. It turns fibrous and dry as it ages.
In addition to fresh root, ginger is found:
. chopped and frozen;
. dried and ground;
. finely sliced and pickled in rice vinegar and sugar: gari in Japanese, which traditionally accompanies sushi;
. cut into sticks and pickled in ume (plum/sour apricot) vinegar and colored red with red shiso – beni shoga in Japanese;
. candied (also known as crystallized ginger).
Ginger is peeled by scraping it with a teaspoon.
It can be used many ways, either cooked or raw: grated, crushed, sliced or in sticks, and juiced, in a large number of dishes.
Ginger is also used in Indian cuisine to enhance the flavor of meat, fish, rice, and vegetables. It is also used to perfume tea.
In China and Japan, chopped fresh ginger is added to soups, marinades, and poaching liquid. It is also used to season fish.
It is also widely used in Creole and African cuisines.
Ginger is sometimes eaten during a meal to refresh the palate.
Ginger juice is the base of different refreshing drinks in Africa and the Middle East. It is also used to flavor ginger beer and ginger ale.
Ginger can be stored unpeeled in the refrigerator for around one week.
It can also be grated and frozen, dried in the oven or stored in vinegar in a jar.
Powdered ginger goes stale very quickly: it should be stored in an airtight container.
Ginger has been used as a remedy for thousands of year in Asian medicine. Writings from the Salerno Sanitatis Salernitanum from the School of Salerno, grand center of medicine in the 10th–13th centuries, include:
Within the stomach, loins, and in the lung
Praise of hot ginger rightly may be sung.
It quenches thirst, revives, excites the brain
And in old age awakes young love again.
Ginger has always been reputed to aid digestion. It is also said to be effective against motion sickness and morning sickness.
Its properties as an aphrodisiac have been described throughout the ages and in every culture. Ginger is mentioned in the Kama Sutra and the Arabian Nights. But as there is no medical study seriously demonstrating this power, we can only rely on these ancient texts.
There are two varieties of ginger: Turmerie ginger, also known as white or yellow ginger, and Flint ginger, known as blue ginger.
But in fact, the quality of ginger essentially depends on growing conditions, soil, and climate. Because of this, ginger is distinguished by its source.
. Jamaica: the most exported type, it has a delicate fragrance and is mainly used fresh.
. Australia: mild and sweet, it is mainly used in confectionery.
. Nigeria and Sierra Leone : this African ginger is more intense and is widely used to make essential oil.
. India: this has a more lemony flavor and is also exported in large quantities.
. China: a great deal of ginger is grown in China but it is often treated with sulfur dioxide, which means it cannot be sold in Europe or the Americas.
Ginger is found all year round.