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What is Zingiber?

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  • Written By: Lonnie C. Best
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 08 December 2016
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Zingiber is a genus of the plant family Zingiberaceae, which is comprised of what are known as the true gingers. The most well-known species of the zingiber genus is Zingiber officinale, more commonly known as kitchen ginger, culinary ginger, common ginger, or ginger root. Different uses of the ginger plant depend on which type of ginger is being used and what the ginger is being used for.

Culinary ginger originated in Asia, and is grown in various regions of the world. The rhizome, or root, of the plant is used in culinary and medicinal practice. Generally, the exterior of the rhizome is a light brownish-gray hue with a slightly woody, almost papery texture. Freshly cut, the root is fibrous and appears bright yellow in color and has a highly fragrant, somewhat spicy aroma and a bitter, astringent flavor not unlike that of a radish.

In the kitchen, ginger takes on many forms: freshly cut, pressed, grated, dried, ground, pickled, candied, and crystallized. Its many uses in cooking include Indian curries, bastes and glazes for chicken, and accompaniments to fish and other meat dishes. It is the main flavoring spice in the German dessert Lebkuchen, or gingerbread, and is used in American holiday desserts such as pumpkin pie.

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Ginger is often served pickled alongside sushi in Japanese cuisine, serving as a palate-cleanser. It has been used for centuries to make tea and as a spicing agent in fermented beverages like ale and beer. Often, it is used in modern beers that are brewed for the autumn and winter seasons. The extract of ginger is used in the formulation of the soft drink ginger ale, as well.

Zingiber officinale, as well as other species of zingiber, have been used in herbal remedies and medicine for thousands of years. The essential oils and extracts of the plant, as well as the various fresh and dried forms of the ginger root, are said to be good for the treatment of numerous illnesses and symptoms. Medicinal uses of ginger include the easing of pain and inflammation, the treatment of nausea and aiding in digestion, relief from the difficulties associated with menstruation, and use as a diuretic. Ginger is also said to promote peripheral circulation, helping blood flow in the body.

While only the rhizome of culinary ginger tends to be used, other zingiber species are used for different purposes. One species, Zingiber zerumbet, is more commonly called shampoo ginger because of its use in shampoos and conditioners. Z. zerumbet and other species of ginger produce a flower that is pleasing to look at and therefore are also used for aesthetic purposes.

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