What is it?

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a perennial herbaceous plant with pungent underground stems called rhizomes.

Family: Zingiberaceae

Ginger is an ancient sterile cultigen which is no longer found growing wild. It is propagated by division in late spring.

Alternate names: common ginger, canton ginger, stem ginger

Zingiber officinale
Köhler’s illustration of Zingiber officinale

Stems: about 1m high

Leaves: 15-30 cm long

Flowers: cone-like yellow spikes produced from white and pink buds

What is edible?

The edible parts of the ginger plant are the rhizomes and the above-ground stems when they are young and tender.

Why is ginger spicy?

Ginger derives its spiciness (or pungency) from the principle compounds gingerol, shogaol and zingerone. Gingerol is the active component in fresh ginger. Zingerone, which is the least pungent, occurs when gingerol is transformed by cooking. Shogaol, which is the most pungent, occurs when gingerol is dried. Shogaol is twice as pungent as gingerol.

Gingerol is related to Capsaicin, which is the active component of chilli peppers.

Where is ginger grown?

Top Ginger Producers

  • India
  • China
  • Indonesia
  • Nepal
  • Nigeria
  • Bangladesh
  • Japan
  • Thailand
  • Philippines
  • Sri Lanka

(Source: United Nations)

Harvesting Ginger

Harvesting can occur as soon as five months after planting rhizomes from the previous year's harvest. At five months the harvested rhizomes are tender and fleshy with a relatively mild flavour and can either be eaten fresh or preserved in syrup or brine (known as preserved or stem ginger). After seven months the rhizomes will become more fibrous and less juicy. As the flavour will now be too strong for the ginger to be eaten raw the rhizomes will generally be dried. At eight to nine months the rhizomes are classed as mature and are fibrous, nearly dry, very aromatic and flavoursome. These are used for drying. Older rhizomes are ideal for juicing but remember that this juice will be very strong. It is used in Chinese cooking to counteract any strong odours and enhance the flavour in some seafood, lamb, goat and beef dishes.

Dried Ginger

All harvested rhizomes are washed (and possibly soaked overnight) to remove any attached soil and then dried. If the rhizomes are left unpeeled they are known as “black” or “green” ginger. If the rhizomes are peeled they are known as “white” ginger. Some processors/distributors will artificially enhance the whiteness of white ginger destined for export by either soaking in limewater or dusting in calcium carbonate. Whether the rhizomes are peeled or unpeeled, soaked or not soaked depends upon the country or region in which they are grown.

The traditional method of drying is to place the washed rhizomes, sliced or whole, on bamboo mats and sun-dry for one to two weeks. Mechanical dryers can also be used.

Indian ginger

Although ginger is grown in many regions of India, two varieties grown in the south-western state of Kerala are said to be of exceptional quality. These are ‘Cochin Ginger’ and ‘Calicut Ginger’.

Cochin ginger is widely considered to be one of the finest in the world, commanding a premium price, because of its lemon-like flavour, low fibre content and high moisture content.

The principal markets for this type of ginger are the Middle East (particularly Saudi Arabia), USA, UK and The Netherlands.

An increasing demand for ginger in India coupled with a drop in domestic production is resulting in India becoming a net importer. India is the world’s largest producer and consumer of ginger.

Chinese ginger

Chinese ginger is generally lighter in colour than Indian and tends to be more fibrous. Most Chinese ginger is exported to Japan. China vies with India to be the world’s largest producer.

Australian ginger

Although Australia is not a large producer it does grow ginger with the highest lemon-like (or citral) odour. Australian ginger, grown in Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and widely exported, has a clean and crisp taste.

Nigerian ginger

Nigeria has the largest area in the world under ginger cultivation but only ranks fifth for production (2007 statistics). Much of Nigeria’s ginger is used for the distillation of essential oils and the extraction of oleoresin for flavouring and seasoning.

Two varieties dominate ginger production: “Tafin-Giwa”, yellowish plump rhizomes, and “Yatsun-Biri”, black or darker smaller rhizomes.

Nigerian ginger is highly valued on the international market for its high oil and oleoresin content.

Jamaican ginger

Jamaican ginger is widely held to rank alongside Indian ginger as the finest in the world. It has an intense fragrance and a delicate eucalyptus-like aroma and flavour. This ginger is used to make the internationally famous Jamaican ginger beer. Production is centred around the parish of St.Ann on the north coast of the island.

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Non-English Names
  • DE – Ingwer
  • ES – Jengibre
  • FR – Gingembre
  • IT – Zenzero
  • NL – Gember
  • PL – Imbir lekarski
  • PT – Gengibre
  • TR – Zencefil
Ginger Cousins
  • Cardamom
  • Galangal
  • Turmeric

Oleoresins are an important product of ginger. They are a naturally occurring mixture of resin and essential oil which can be used to add a ginger flavour and aroma to a prepared dish.