From Moscow Mules to Moroccan Stewed Beef, ginger is a well-traveled spice. The redolent rhizome has ridden camels over mountains and sailed boats across oceans, enhancing the flavors of every curry, stew, jam, chutney, pickle, pie, cake, and cookie along the way.
What is Ginger?
Ginger is the root (or rhizome) of Zingiber officinale, a tropical plant native to southeast Asia. The ginger plant is a member of the wider Zingiberaceae family, along with its sibling spices turmeric, cardamom, black cardamom, and grains of paradise.
Austronesian peoples are believed to have domesticated it around 5,000 years ago, dispersing the spice through Micronesia and the pacific via wooden canoes. Ginger soon spread from tropical Asia to India and China. By 479 B.C., Chinese philosopher Confucius wrote about ginger and ate it with nearly every meal.
Arabic traders introduced ginger to Rome and Greece, making it one of the first eastern spices known in Europe. In 14th century England, a pound of ginger was as valuable as a healthy adult sheep. Henry the VIII recommended ginger as a cure for the Black Plague while Queen Elizabeth I simply enjoyed hers in gingerbread.
Ginger is one of the most widely known spices in the world and grown in nearly every country with a warm climate, heavy rainfall, and plenty of sunshine. As early as 1547, ginger was being grown in Jamaica for export to Europe. Today, most of the world’s ginger is grown in India, but the highest quality dried ginger root comes from China.
For more than a decade, The Spice House’s premium ginger has come from the southwestern Chinese provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou, and Guangxi. We find the ginger cultivated there has the best taste and appearance.
Spice House sourcing expert, Alex Wilkens, explains, “You may notice our ground ginger has a brighter color, aroma, and flavor than other ginger powders. This is the direct result of removing the peel before those dried rhizomes are ground into fresh powder at The Spice House. Ginger peels are for compost, not for cakes and cookies.”
Cooking With Ginger
Ginger’s warmth and peppery bite are enjoyed within almost all of the world’s major cuisines, especially in beverages. Ginger beer, herbal teas, masala chai, mango lassis, and turmeric milk frequently rely on this spice.
Fresh ginger root is often sliced into strips for stir frys or ground into a paste for curries and marinades. Ground ginger is most popular for baking, beverages, and spice rubs, but can also be used to substitute fresh ginger. As with dried herbs, ground ginger has a concentrated flavor. If a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of fresh ginger, try starting with ⅛ - ¼ of a teaspoon of dried ginger to substitute.
There’s also crystallized ginger, sometimes called candied ginger. Fresh ginger is peeled, sliced, and simmered in sugary syrup, then rolled in cane sugar to harden and dry. This preserves the ginger and makes it addictively delicious. Crystallized ginger slices make a great snack with tea, while crystallized ginger nibs instantly improve any sweet baking recipe that calls for ginger. Scones are particularly delicious with candied ginger.
Dried whole ginger root is also available for the serious cook. The root can be ground fresh a la minute with a microplane, for when you want stronger ginger flavor. You can also rehydrate it in hot water, dice it with a knife, and use it like you would fresh. This is how ginger ale is often made.
In western culture, ginger is mostly thought of as a sweet baking spice and is an essential ingredient for Apple Pie Spice and Pumpkin Spice blends. Further from the western palate, you’ll find ground ginger used in savory spice blends like Curry Powder, Argyle Street Stir Fry, Trinidad Lemon Garlic, and Berbere.
Ginger pairs with nearly any type of fruit, especially in jams, pies, and fruit salads. Apples, oranges, figs, melon, pineapple, grapes, blueberries, bananas, apricots, and peaches work very well with this spice. Don’t forget about pumpkin or sweet potato pies either.
On the savory side of the table, try using ginger with green beans, peppers, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, radish, cucumber, peas, okra, eggplant, chickpeas, tofu, tuna, salmon, shrimp, oysters, pork, duck, beef, turkey, rabbit, and chicken.
Other flavors and spices to pair with ginger are allspice, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, chiles, peppercorns, cumin, fennel, coriander, mustard, turmeric, vanilla, sesame seed, lemongrass, mint, cardamom, lemon, tamarind, garlic, onion, scallion, chives, shallots, star anise, black tea, honey, soy sauce, fish sauce, peanut sauce, coconut milk, miso, and tahini.
Top Recipes for Ginger
Homemade Ginger Ale
Apple Ginger Scones
Sichuan Pepper Steaks
Quadruple Ginger Cookies
Curried Pumpkin Apple Soup
Ginger Curry Mustard
Moroccan Beef Short Ribs
If you have any questions about ginger, or have a favorite recipe to share, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave us a comment below.
Article by Geoff Marshall, Staff Writer