Ginger (Zingiber officinale, Family: Zingiberaceae), a tropical perennial, was one of the spices Marco Polo saw growing in India and China in his 20 years of travel in those mysterious lands. The Spanish explorer Francisco de Mendoza took it from its native East Indies to New Spain where, in the West Indian island of Jamaica, the world’s finest is now produced. Ginger, which bears a spectacularly beautiful flower, is grown for its root or rhizome throughout many tropical and semi-tropical areas of the world.
The root is dug when the plant is about one year old. It may be peeled or scraped before it is dried in the sun, in which case it is called white ginger; or it may be left unpeeled and scalded before drying, in which case it is called black ginger. In any case it is the sun bleaching which gives the root the light buff color, which may range to yellow, familiar to us in both the irregular pieces (called "races" or "hands" commercially) and in the ground or powdered form in which it is used, mostly for baking.
Ginger has a sharp penetrating aroma; its spicy taste has a bite. It is used ground, cracked, crystallized and preserved. Green ginger is the immature, undried rhizome. Ginger flavors a wide range of foods and drinks such as ginger snaps and gingerbread, ginger ale and ginger beer. It is a popular, spicy seasoning for pies, cakes, and puddings. Every cook is familiar with these. Fewer know its affinity for most meats, including chicken, and for many vegetables, including sweet potatoes, carrots, and squash. It is delicious with fruits, including fresh, stewed, and canned. It is a standby in Oriental and Polynesian dishes.
Ginger was used medicinally by many ancient peoples. Dioscorides noted in his De Materia Medica, the herbal that was the last word on medicine throughout the first 1500 years of the Christian era, that the roots "have a warming, concocting power, mollifying of the belly gently and good for the stomack". Many a modern diner, feeling the warmth of a ginger-flavored dish in his stomach, must agree that the old Greek knew whereof he wrote.