Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
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Ginger is the common name for the monocotyledonous perennial plant Zingiber officinale. The term is also used to describe the edible part of the plant which is commonly used as a spice in cooking throughout the world. Often erroneously referred to as “ginger root”, the edible section is actually the horizontal subterranean stem or rhizome of the plant. The ginger plant has a long history of cultivation known to originate in China and then spread to India, Southeast Asia, West Africa, and the Caribbean.
Ginger contains up to 3% of an essential oil that causes the fragrance of the spice. The main constituents are sesquiterpenoids with (-)-zingiberene as the main component. Lesser 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. The latter are formed from the former when ginger is dried or cooked. Zingerone is also produced from gingerols during this process, and it is less pungent and has a spicy-sweet aroma.
Ginger has a sialagogue action, stimulating the production of saliva.
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 Chinese cuisine to flavor dishes such as seafood or mutton. Powdered dry ginger root (ginger powder) is typically used to add spiciness to gingerbread and other recipes. Ground and fresh ginger taste quite different and ground ginger is a poor substitute for fresh ginger. Fresh ginger can be successfully substituted for ground ginger and should be done at a ratio of 6 parts fresh for 1 part ground.
Ginger is also made into candy and 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 somewhat spicier beverage ginger beer.