Ginger, an underground creeping rhizome of the tropical plant zingiber officinale, is an important and valued spice world-wide. Ginger evolved in Southeast Asia and grows abundantly in the tropics of India and in most of Asia. Today it is a cash crop in both Africa and Latin America. It is also cultivated in great quantities in Jamaica. African and Cochin ginger yield the most resin and volatile oil. Fresh ginger is now easily available in Western countries.

Ginger has been used both as a spice and as a medicine in India and China since ancient times. It was among the first oriental spices to reach Europe. It was one of the prized imports of the ancient Roman Empire; as far back as 2000 years ago it was imported to Rome in little clay jars. During the renaissance, ginger had a high reputation in Europe.

Fresh ginger is pale beige in color with a creamy interior. The skin is thin and easy to peel off. Ginger’s fragrance is sharp and aromatic and its taste is spicy and biting. When shopping for fresh ginger, look for pieces with a plump, smooth, somewhat shiny skin. If its wrinkled or cracked, then ginger is drying and past its prime.

Ginger root must be kept in a dry place, or it will start sprouting little buds and eventually get spoiled. It is best to store ginger at room temperature. Depending upon your recipe, fresh ginger may be sliced, diced, minced, grated, shredded or juiced. To prepare fresh ginger, peel only the skin of this knobby-looking rhizome. Use either a vegetable peeler, a sharp knife or scrape off the skin with an ordinary spoon.

When chopped ginger is fried, the hot and spicy taste gives way to a mild, rich flavour. If fresh ginger is cooked, it will increase in pungency but decrease in freshness. Fresh and dried ginger differs totally in taste. Never substitute dried ground ginger for fresh. It simply doesn’t taste the same. The taste of dry ginger is more aromatic than pungent. Dried and powdered ginger is widely used in Ayurvedic medicine.

The popular soft drink Ginger ale is simply sugar, ginger extract and carbonated water.