Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a flowering plant whose rhizome, ginger root or ginger, is widely used as a spice and folk medicine. It is a herbaceous perennial which grows annual pseudostems (false stems made of the rolled bases of leaves) about one meter tall bearing narrow leaf blades. The inflorescences bear flowers having pale yellow petals with purple edges, and arise directly from the rhizome on separate shoots.
Pritish Kumar in his article briefly explained Ginger which is a very important and useful spice in the world.
Ginger is in the family Zingiberaceae, which also includes turmeric (Curcuma longa), cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum), and galangal. Ginger originated in Maritime Southeast Asia and was likely domesticated first by the Austronesian peoples. It was transported with them throughout the Indo-Pacific during the Austronesian expansion (c. 5,000 BP), reaching as far as Hawaii. Ginger is one of the first spices to have been exported from Asia, arriving in Europe with the spice trade, and was used by ancient Greeks and Romans. The distantly related dicots in the genus Asarum are commonly called wild ginger because of their similar taste.
Ginger originated from Maritime Southeast Asia. It is a true cultigen and does not exist in its wild state. The most ancient evidence of its domestication is among the Austronesian peoples where it was among several species of ginger cultivated and exploited since ancient times. They cultivated other gingers including turmeric (Curcuma longa), white turmeric (Curcuma zedoaria), and bitter ginger (Zingiber zerumbet).
The rhizomes and the leaves were used to flavour food or eaten directly. The leaves were also used to weave mats. Aside from these uses, ginger had religious significance among Austronesians, being used in rituals for healing and for asking protection from spirits. It was also used in the blessing of Austronesian ships.
Ginger produces clusters of white and pink flower buds that bloom into yellow flowers. Because of its aesthetic appeal and the adaptation of the plant to warm climates, it is often used as landscaping around subtropical homes. It is a perennial reed-like plant with annual leafy stems, about a meter (3 to 4 feet) tall. Traditionally, the rhizome is gathered when the stalk withers; it is immediately scalded, or washed and scraped, to kill it and prevent sprouting. The fragrant perisperm of the Zingiberaceae is used as sweetmeats by Bantu, and also as a condiment and sialagogue.
Production in India
Though it is grown in many areas across the globe, ginger is “among the earliest recorded spices to be cultivated and exported from southwest India”. India holds the seventh position in ginger export worldwide, however is the “largest producer of ginger in the world”. Regions in southwest and Northeast India are most suitable for ginger production due to their warm and humid climate, average rainfall and land space.
Ginger has the ability to grow in a wide variety of land types and areas, however is best produced when grown in a warm, humid environment, at an elevation between 300 and 900 m (1,000 and 3,000 ft), and in well-drained soils at least 30 cm deep. A period of low rainfall prior to growing and well-distributed rainfall during growing are also essential for the ginger to thrive well in the soil.
The size of the seed ginger, called rhizome, is essential to the production of ginger. The larger the rhizome piece, the faster ginger will be produced and therefore the faster it will be sold onto the market. Prior to planting the seed rhizomes, farmers are required to treat the seeds to prevent pests, and rhizome rot and other seed-borne diseases. There are various ways farmers do seed treatment in India. These include dipping the seeds in cow dung emulsion, smoking the seeds before storage, or hot water treatment.
Once the seeds are properly treated, the farmland in which they are to be planted must be thoroughly dug or ploughed by the farmer to break up the soil. After the soil is sufficiently ploughed (at least 3-5 times), water channels are made 60–80 feet (18–24 m) apart to irrigate the crop.
The next step is planting the rhizome seed. In India, planting the irrigated ginger crop is usually done in the months between March and June as those months account for the beginning of the monsoon, or rainy season. Once the planting stage is done, farmers go on to mulch the crop to conserve moisture and check weed growth, as well as check surface run-off to conserve soil. Mulching is done by applying mulch (green leaves for example) to the plant beds directly after planting and again 45 and 90 days into growth.
After mulching comes hilling, which is the stirring and breaking up of soil to check weed growth, break the firmness of the soil from rain, and conserve soil moisture. Farmers must ensure that their ginger crops are receiving supplemental irrigation if rainfall is low in their region. In India, farmers must irrigate their ginger crops every two weeks at the least between September and November (when the monsoon is over) to ensure maximum yield and high-quality product.
Ginger is a common spice used worldwide, whether for meals or as a folk medicine. Ginger can be used for a variety of food items such as vegetables, candy, soda, pickles, and alcoholic beverages.
It is a fragrant kitchen spice. Young ginger rhizomes are juicy and fleshy with a mild taste. They are often pickled in vinegar or sherry as a snack or cooked as an ingredient in many dishes. They can be steeped in boiling water to make ginger herb tea, to which honey may be added. Ginger can be made into candy or ginger wine.
Mature ginger rhizomes are fibrous and nearly dry. The juice from ginger roots is often used as a seasoning in Indian recipes and is a common ingredient of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, and many South Asian cuisines for flavoring dishes such as seafood, meat, and vegetarian dishes.
Fresh ginger can be substituted for ground ginger at a ratio of six to one, although the flavours of fresh and dried ginger are somewhat different. Powdered dry ginger root is typically used as a flavouring for recipes such as gingerbread, cookies, crackers and cakes, ginger ale, and ginger beer. Candied or crystallized ginger, known in the UK as “stem ginger”, is the root cooked in sugar until soft, and is a type of confectionery. Fresh ginger may be peeled before eating. For longer-term storage, the ginger can be placed in a plastic bag and refrigerated or frozen.