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General Description: Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a plant grown for its spicy, aromatic, gnarled, and bumpy root. Ginger is a rhizome that probably originated in Southeast Asia. Ginger’s name comes from the Sanskrit word for “horn root.” In the 13th century, Marco Polo reported seeing vast ginger plantations in Cathay (China). Ancient Hindu and Chinese cultures valued ginger’s medicinal qualities. Ginger was probably introduced to Japan more than 2,000 years ago from China. The Chinese and Japanese consider ginger a yang, or hot, food, which balances cooling yin foods to create harmony.

Babylonians, ancient Egyptians, and Persians used ginger in cooking. Ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines utilized dried ginger, as it was the only form that arrived unspoiled after the voyage from East Asia and India. Cooks in those areas still make use of dried ginger. Most likely, ginger was brought to Britain by Roman soldiers. The Spaniards brought ginger to Jamaica to cultivate it there and avoid the long voyage from the Far East. Portuguese slaves cultivated ginger in West Africa and Brazil, where it is a basic seasoning.

Ginger ranges in color from pale green-yellow to ivory and has a peppery, slightly sweet flavor and pungent, spicy aroma. It may contain inconspicuous to prominent fibers, depending on age and variety. Fresh ginger sold in the “hands” that it resembles is basic to Asian and Indian cooking. Other members of the ginger family are turmeric, galangal, cardamom, and the mild mioga ginger, Zingiber mioga, whose shoots the Japanese pickle and dye pink to serve with sushi.

Season: Fresh ginger is available year-round with peak season March through September.

Purchase: Look for roots that have a firm, smooth skin with a light sheen and fresh, spicy fragrance. Hawaiian ginger has very thin skin and fiber-free flesh.

Avoid: Avoid knobby, shriveled, or moldy ginger.

Storage: Refrigerate ginger wrapped in paper towels and then plastic up to 2 weeks. For longer storage, freeze (slice off as much as you need and return the rest to the freezer).


  1. Trim off as small a knob as needed.
  2. Peel using a vegetable peeler or the edge of a spoon.
  3. Grate or slice across the grain, or chop finely as needed.

Serving Suggestions: Chop or grate ginger with garlic as a base for Asian stir-fries or Indian or Southeast Asian curries. Steep slices in boiling water for ginger tea, then add sugar or honey. Add to steak marinades with soy sauce, molasses, toasted sesame oil, chopped garlic, dry mustard, hot red pepper flakes, and scallions.

Flavor Affinities: Beef, chicken, curry, duck, fish, honey, pork, puddings, salad, saté, seafood, sesame oil, soy sauce, sugar.

from Quirk Books: