What Is Ginger Root?

Overview

The gingersnap cookie derives its snappy flavor from the ginger root. The ginger root, a plant rhizome, lends its distinctive flavor to ethnic dishes, baked items and other culinary dishes. For centuries, the ginger root has flavor foods and been an ingredient in herbal medicines used to soothe stomach pain and nausea.

Identification

Ginger, a perennial plant, belongs to the family zingiberaceae and its scientific classification is Zingiber officinale. The ginger root is the rhizome or underground portion of the plant. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, the active components of the ginger root include gingerols and shogaols, which are volatile oils and pungent phenol compounds.

Function

For centuries, ginger root has been part of the kitchen, medicine cabinet and dressing table. Used to make some perfume, ginger root is also a component in some medications to treat ailments, such as stomachaches and toothaches. In the kitchen, ginger is a spice to season baked goods and dishes. Ginger ale and gingerbread owe their distinct flavor to ginger root.

Types

How ginger root is processed will determine which type of ginger spice it will produce. Three common types involve drying: dried, white and black. While all three are washed before dehydration, when preparing white ginger, the skin is removed from the root before drying, and in black ginger, the root is scalded with hot water before drying. Preserved ginger is not dried, but peeled and boiled in syrup.

Geography

Ginger is native to Asia. Today ginger grows in tropical Asia, West Indies, Japan, South America, Hawaii, Jamaica and West Africa. The plant prefers moist, fertile soil and a tropical climate.

History

For more than 4,000 years, civilizations have used ginger as a seasoning or herbal medicine. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, more than 2,000 years ago, China used the root to soothe stomach pains and bowel ailments. Two thousand years before that time, Asia was already seasoning its food with ginger. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Europe apparently forgot about ginger. Marco Polo reminded Europe of the root by reintroducing it in the 1300s. Queen Elizabeth I used ginger root in creating a holiday classic: the gingerbread man.

Keywords: ginger root, ginger plant rhizome, ginger spice

About this Author

Ann Johnson was the editor of a community magazine in Southern California for more than 10 years and was an active real estate agent, specializing in commercial and residential properties. She has a Bachelors of Art degree in communications from California State University of Fullerton. Today she is a freelance writer and photographer, and part owner of an Arizona real estate company.