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Agriculture > Spices > Ginger

Origin

Ginger is one of the earliest known oriental spices and is being cultivated in India both as a fresh vegetable and as a dried spice since time immemorial. Ginger is obtained from the rhizomes of Zingiber officinale. The ginger family is a tropical group especially abundant in Indo-Malaysia, consisting of more than 1200 plant species in 53 genera. The genus Zingiber includes about 85 species of aromatic herbs from East Asia and Tropical Australia. The word ginger is derived from a Sanskrit word singabera meaning 'shaped like a deer's antlers (horn)'. Ginger is not known in a wild state and has been cultivated for so long a period in both China and India that its exact origin is unclear. It is believed to be a native of Southern Asia. Kerala and Meghalaya are the major ginger growing states in the country.

Ginger rhizomes

Ginger, reached the West at least two thousand years ago, recorded as a subject of a Roman tax in the second century after being imported via the Red Sea to Alexandria. Tariff duties appear in the records of Marseilles in 1228 and in Paris by 1296. Rosengarten (1969) recorded that ginger was mentioned by the Chinese philosopher Confucius (551-479 BC). Its medicinal properties are mentioned by Dioscorides (1 century A.D) in his D. Materia Medica. It was introduced to Germany and France in the ninth century and to England in the tenth century. Ginger is known in England before the Norman Conquest, as it is commonly found in the 11th century Anglo-Saxon leech books. Ginger is detailed in a 13th century work, "Physicians of Myddvai," a collection of recipes and prescriptions written by a physician, Rhiwallon, and his three sons, by mandate of Rhys Gryg, prince of South Wales (who died in 1233). By the 13th and 14th centuries it was familiar to English palates, and next to pepper, was the most popular spice. Ginger, as a product of the Far East, was indelibly imprinted on the taste buds of Westerners before potatoes, tomatoes, and corn were even known to exist by Europeans.

Arabs took it from India to East Africa (13th century). The Portugese Mendoja, introduced ginger into Mexico soon after the discovery of that country. They in turn introduced in Jamaica. Since the ginger rhizomes can be easily transported in a living state, the plant has been introduced to several tropical and sub-tropical countries. Ginger is now commercially cultivated in nearly every tropical and subtropical countries in the world with arable land for export crops. The major production is in India, Jamaica, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Brazil, China, Japan, Indonesia, Taiwan and Australia. Jamaica and India produce the best quality ginger. In India, about 70% of the total ginger production is confined to Kerala. Other states that grow ginger are Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, West Bengal and Sikkim.

Aroma and flavour

Ginger, being a major spice, has many uses in food, flavouring and medicinal products. The aroma of ginger is pleasant and spicy and flavour penetrating, pungent and slightly biting. It is a common ingredient in Asian cooking and it flavours several products like confectionary, gingerole, curry powders, pickles, several soft drinks and alcoholic beverages. It is also essential in Western baking like in traditional gingerbreads, cakes, biscuits etc. It is available fresh and preserved in brine or syrup. Besides these, ginger oils and oleoresins also have a variety of uses. The essential oil is used in commercial flavourings.

Medicinal and other use

Ginger is carminative, diaphoretic and spasmolytic. Ginger is truly a world domestic remedy. Asian cultures have used it for centuries. Experimental data developed by Chinese scientists verifies the ability of ginger to "strengthen," the stomach while acting as a mild stomach and intestinal stimulant. It has also been shown to inhibit vomiting. Animal experiments have also shown analgesic and anti-inflammatory activity. Even in modern China, while an essential ingredient in almost any meal, it is also one of the most widely consumed drugs. Both fresh and dried roots are official drugs of the modern Chinese pharmacopoeia, as is a liquid extract and tincture of ginger. Ginger is used in dozens of traditional Chinese prescriptions as a "guide drug" to "mediate" the effects of potentially toxic ingredients. In fact, in modern China, Ginger is believed to be used in half of all herbal prescriptions. Several of its pharmaceutical uses are mentioned in Ayurveda. Like the ancient Chinese, in India the fresh and dried roots were considered distinct medicinal products. Fresh ginger has been used for cold-induced disease, nausea, asthma, cough, colic, heart palpitation, swellings, dyspepsia, loss of appetite, and rheumatism. Ginger is as popular a home remedy in India today, as it was 2,000 years ago. Studies by Japanese researchers indicate that ginger has a tonic effect on the heart, and may lower blood pressure by restricting blood flow in peripheral areas of the body. Further studies show that ginger can lower cholesterol levels by reducing cholesterol absorption in the blood and liver.

Ginger extracts have been extensively studied for a broad range of biological activities including antibacterial, anticonvulsant, analgesic, antiulcer, gastric antisecretory, antitumor, antifungal, antispasmodic, antiallergenic, and other activities. Gingerols have been shown to be inhibitors of prostaglandin biosynthesis. Other scientific studies show that gingerol, one of the primary pungent principles of ginger, helps counter liver toxicity by increasing bile secretion. Ginger has potent anti-microbial and anti-oxidant (food preservative) qualities as well. A recent study, furthering ginger's reputation as a stomachic, shows that acetone and methanol extracts of ginger strongly inhibits gastric ulceration. Several studies published in the last two decades have confirmed the traditional claims for use as an anti-vomiting or anti-motion sickness agent.

Ginger is valued the world over, as a culinary herb, condiment, spice, home remedy, and medicinal agent. It is likely that ginger will be enjoyed and valued for the next millennium, and new research will undoubtedly reveal new value for this ancient herb.

 

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