Ginger is a tuber which is consumed whole as a delicacy, medicine or used as spice for cooking or tea. It is the underground stem of the ginger plant, Zingiber officinale. Besides its genus, the plant family to which it belongs–Zingiberaceae–was also named after ginger. Other notable members of this plant family are turmeric, cardamom and galangal.
The ginger plant has a long history of cultivation, having originated in Asia and is grown in India, Southeast Asia, West Africa and the Caribbean. It is sometimes called “root ginger” to distinguish it from other things that share the name “ginger”.
The characteristic odor and flavor of ginger root is caused by a mixture of zingerone, shogaols 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.
Ginger sectionGinger contains up to three percent of a fragrant essential oil whose main constituents are sesquiterpenoids, with (-)-zingiberene as the main component. Smaller 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, which form from gingerols when ginger is dried or cooked. Zingerone is also produced from gingerols during this process; this compound is less pungent and has a spicy-sweet aroma. 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 feaguing.
Ginger has a sialagogue action, stimulating the production of saliva, which makes swallowing easier.
Young ginger rhizomes are juicy and fleshy with a very mild taste. 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. The juice from old ginger roots is extremely potent and is often used as a spice in Indian recipes and Chinese cuisine to flavor dishes such as seafood or mutton and vegetarian recipes. Powdered dry ginger root (ginger powder) is typically used to spice gingerbread and other recipes. Fresh ginger can be substituted for ground ginger at a ratio of 6 parts fresh for 1 part ground, although the flavors of fresh and dried ginger are not exactly interchangeable.
Ginger is also made into candy, is 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 spicier ginger beer which is popular in the Caribbean.
Fresh ginger should be peeled before being eaten. For storage, the ginger should be wrapped tightly in a towel and placed in a plastic bag, and can be kept for about three weeks in a refrigerator and up to three months in a freezer.
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 is on the FDA’s ‘generally recognized as safe’ list, though it does interact with some medications, including warfarin. Ginger is contraindicated in people suffering from gallstones as the herb promotes the release of bile from the gallbladder. Ginger may also decrease joint pain from arthritis, though studies on this have been inconsistent, and may have blood thinning and cholesterol lowering properties that may make it useful for treating heart disease.
Ginger compounds are active against a form of diarrhea which is the leading cause of infant death in developing countries. Zingerone is likely to be the active constituent against enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli heat-labile enterotoxin-induced diarrhea.
Ginger has been found effective in multiple studies for treating nausea caused by seasickness, morning sickness and chemotherapy, though ginger was not found superior over a placebo for post-operative nausea.
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