Botanical Name: Zingiber officinale
Common Names: Ginger Root, Canton Ginger, Shooga,
Origin: Tropical Asia and India
Ginger is a tropical perennial root spice that grows as an underground rhizome. The narrow, 30 cm leaves are light green and grow on thick pseudo-stems that develop from a series of tightly overlapping leaves. Plants grow up to 1 m tall with small cone-shaped clusters of cream bracts as insignificant flowers.
Ginger is a tropical and sub-tropical herbaceous perennial that grows best in under-storey or shaded positions in rich, free-draining, moist soil. It needs 1500 mm of annual rainfall so in the Lockyer Valley where we live supplementary watering is required. At the end of autumn, the leaves and stems turn brown and shrivel as the plant becomes dormant over winter. Ginger is both frost and drought tender, but the clump will usually re-shoot in spring after a cold winter. It’s also suitable to grow in a large pot which can be moved to a warmer spot in winter.
Harvesting of the edible rhizomes is best done in late autumn when they are light in colour with soft skins and mild pungency. As the rhizomes age they become darker, hotter and more fibrous. Small tender rhizomes can be “bandicooted” all year round as needed from under the soil at the sides of the plant. This will leave the rest of the clump to continue to grow. Alternatively, the whole plant can be lifted and harvested in late autumn and a few of the healthiest rhizomes can be detached and replanted the following spring.
Ginger grows from small rhizome setts planted 30 cm apart and 10 cm deep in spring. These can easily be divided from an existing clump or purchased from a nursery. Fresh organic Ginger rhizomes can also be purchased from a green grocer and then stored until small eyes or buds start to develop before planting. Large rhizomes can be cut into multiple pieces each with at least one green growing tip. The cut ends of these pieces should be allowed to dry for a couple of days to reduce the possibility of fungus infecting the planting piece.
Hot, citrus and woody. The major flavour compounds are Gingerol, Shogoal and Zingiberene
The edible rhizomes have a fragrant, spicy, citrus taste. Young rhizomes are tender and older ones are more fibrous. Rhizomes can be used fresh, dried or ground into a powder, and the young leaf shoots and flower buds are also edible. Very young rhizomes, known as stem ginger, can be peeled and eaten raw in salads.
In the kitchen, rhizomes can be stored in the refrigerator for a few weeks or peeled, sliced and stored in a sealed container in the freezer for several months. Rhizomes can also be sliced and dried and then ground into powder and dried slices can be used if first softened in water. However, for the best flavour rhizomes are best used fresh and peeled, chopped or grated or pound to a paste. When dried, the heat pungency increases, and rhizomes have fewer citrus notes.
Ginger partners well with vegetables for Asian-style coleslaw and soups. It can also be grated and paired with fruit such as mango, pears, apples and rhubarb, or added to carrot cake, lemon biscuits and other baked sweets. It is widely used in Asian cuisine where it is added to steamed fish and pork stir-fry and is considered an essential ingredient in curries.
Other popular uses include ginger beer, ginger tea, gingerbread, ginger marmalade, crystallized ginger, fermented ginger and honey, and pickled ginger with sushi. It’s also delicious added to chutneys, pickles, fruit conserves, smoothies, fruit and vegetable juices, kombucha and tibicos (water kefir). A hot ginger, lemon and honey drink is also a soothing boost to your immune system in winter.
Ginger is a good source of calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, sodium, phosphorous, selenium and sulphur, along with vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B9, C and E. Research suggests that it contains analgesic, antibacterial, antibiotic, anti-fungal, anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
The essential oil is used in perfumery and cosmetics, and it has been used in traditional medicine for indigestion and nausea.