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What is Ginger?

Mary Elizabeth
Updated Feb 27, 2024
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Ginger, or Zingiber officinale, is a creeping perennial indigenous to tropical Asia and other tropical areas, including Jamaica, and is cultivated in the United States, India, and China. The name generally refers to the fresh or dried, whole or powdered rhizome of the plant. Although it is often called ginger root, it is not a root. Turmeric is in the same family.

The plant's stalk grows to a height of 3 to 4 feet (90 to 120 cm). It produces flowers that are white with purple streaks or yellowish in color, and they grow on spikes at the end of the stems that grow from the rhizome.

The taste is described as fiery and pungent, and rates seven of ten on the hotness scale. It is closely associated with gingerbread, cake, cookies, pie, sausage, and curry. It is sometimes called for in Jamaican jerk paste, and it is used in Chinese kung pao. When sliced and pickled, it is used to clear the palate between different pieces of sushi.

Ginger is used in a number of different beverages and can be made into a tisane, made by boiling pieces of the rhizome for several minutes. Ginger ale and beer both got their names from this important ingredient. Dried, it is one of the ingredients in the French four-spice mixture called quatre épices, along with nutmeg, white pepper, and cloves. It's also used in Indian curry powders and Chinese five spice powder.

Many people use ginger for its health benefits, and the plant is noted as having antioxidant effects. It is also used to prevent or diminish nausea, although some medical professionals recommend against using it during pregnancy, so women should check with a health care professional before taking it. The extract is also an ingredient in shampoo.

Ginger is often referred to as a spice, which is the leaves, seeds, or other plant parts used for flavoring food or as a condiment. The name derives from the Late Latin word species, meaning “wares” or “spices.” Spices are sometimes categorized by their cultural connection, for example, Italian spices or Cajun spices. Some herbs are also considered to be spices, but not all spices are herbs.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary Elizabeth
By Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to writing articles on art, literature, and music for WiseGEEK, Mary works as a teacher, composer, and author who has written books, study guides, and teaching materials. Mary has also created music composition content for Sibelius Software. She earned her B.A. from University of Chicago's writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont.

Discussion Comments

By indemnifyme — On Sep 04, 2012

@dautsun - That sounds really good. I like ginger a lot too, but my favorite thing is probably gingerbread cookies. They are so good, and not too sweet. Too bad most stores only sell them during the winter!

By dautsun — On Sep 03, 2012

I know ginger is supposed to be really good for you, but I just love the taste! I add ginger to a lot of my cooking, because I think it adds an extra little "zing" to the flavoring of almost any dish. I have a great ginger beef recipe I use pretty frequently.

I slow cook the beef with cubes of ginger and a few other spices. When I'm done, I strain out the ginger cubes and serve the beef without it. I get a lot of compliments on the recipe, but few people are able to guess I cooked the beef with ginger!

By Monika — On Sep 03, 2012

@LisaLou - I like ginger tea a lot myself. I usually buy it in tea bag form though. I think it's a lot easier than trying to brew it from fresh ginger. Also, I can never get the tea strong enough when I use fresh ginger!

By JaneAir — On Sep 02, 2012

@alisha - I've been taking ginger baths for years! Of all the ginger uses, taking a bath in it is probably the strangest, but it works really well if you're starting to get sick. I've shortened the duration of a number of colds and flus with the ginger bath.

I usually put one container of powdered ginger in a really hot bath, and sit in it for 12 to 15 minutes. Then I dry off, wrap myself up in towel, and head to bed, armed with a big bottle of water. I always sweat a lot after I take a ginger bath, so it's good to remain hydrated. I usually wake up the next morning feeling much, much better.

By fify — On Sep 02, 2012

I think we don't use ginger as much in American cuisine as some other cuisines. When I was in Southeast Asia, ginger was everywhere in all forms-- fresh, dried, ground-- and it was used in so many recipes.

For example, in Indian cuisine, it's in many of the spice mixes like masala mixture. It's also really popular in desserts and chai.

I kind of wish we used more of ginger in American foods because it's so good for us. I've experienced its benefits first hand. I know how good it is for digestion and for strengthening the immune system. And fresh ginger is widely available in grocery stores now.

By ddljohn — On Sep 01, 2012

@golf07-- Ginger ale jello?! That's interesting. I might try that sometime because I do love ginger ale.

I know what you mean because ginger ale tastes really good and sweet. And straight-up ginger as a spice is very strong and spicy. It's not easy to handle if you're not used to it. I don't really like ginger as a spice but I've always liked ginger ale.

By LisaLou — On Sep 01, 2012

I love the taste of ginger and make my own ginger tea. This is so easy to do and has a lot of health benefits too. If I am having some indigestion, a cup of this hot tea really helps.

I buy some ginger root and peel it into thin slices. Next I get some water boiling and add the ginger pieces. This is really all you need to do, but you can add some honey if you want a little bit of a sweeter taste. Honey is also good for indigestion so I usually put some in my hot tea.

This takes about 15 minutes to simmer, but is worth the wait. If I have a lemon on hand, I may add a slice of that too. This also works great if you are nauseated. Not everyone likes this tea the first time they try it, but I really enjoy the slightly spicy taste of ginger.

By golf07 — On Aug 31, 2012

I don't really like to drink ginger ale by itself but will mix it with other drinks. If I am making jello, I also like to replace the water with ginger ale. This gives the jello is nice tangy taste.

Before reading this article I never thought about the fact that ginger ale actually has ginger in it. I just always thought of ginger as a spice and pictured it in a spice bottle in my cupboard, not in the carbonated beverage I was using.

By myharley — On Aug 31, 2012

One of my favorite desserts my mom used to make was gingerbread cake. She would serve this warm from the oven with a little dollop of whip cream on it. This would just melt in your mouth.

Not everyone likes the taste of ginger, but whether you like the taste or not, when it is baking in the oven, the aroma is wonderful.

By bagley79 — On Aug 30, 2012

I like using fresh ginger in some recipes but never use very much of it at one time. I saw a great tip on TV that said to store whatever you don't use in the freezer.

Then when you need some fresh ginger, just take the ginger root out of the freezer and grate it. Now when I buy ginger root at the store I don't worry about not being able to use all of it up at one time.

By discographer — On May 21, 2012

My doctor didn't say anything to me about taking ginger during my pregnancy. I ate ginger candies throughout for my morning sickness!

What kind of concerns do doctors have about ginger during pregnancy? Even Dr. Oz on TV recommended ginger candies for nausea. I know that during pregnancy nothing is recommended in excess. But I don't see how a couple of ginger candies daily would be harmful for the child.

Recently, I discovered something called a ginger bath. Since ginger is full of antioxidants and it has a fiery quality, it makes for a great bath ingredient. If you add fresh or dry ginger to your bath water and sit in it for fifteen to twenty minutes, it makes you sweat like crazy. But that's good, sweating helps get rid of the toxins and it's supposed to reduce fevers too.

By SteamLouis — On May 20, 2012

@somerset-- I didn't know that ginger can be a houseplant. I wish I could grow ginger at home. That would be so cool and I would have my own source of fresh ginger. But I live in a dry climate and naturally, the air inside the house is dry too. How can ginger grow in a dry climate?

I use both dry ginger and fresh. Fresh ginger definitely has a lovely peppery aroma to it, but dry ginger seems even more pungent and spicy to me. When I put fresh ginger in foods and drinks, it doesn't make the foods as spicy as dry ginger. Does anyone else feel that way?

And I'm sure the quality and freshness of the product makes a difference too.

By bear78 — On May 20, 2012

@anon85468-- Actually, it's not a root, like the article mentioned. Ginger is a rhizome, in other words, rootstock. The fresh ginger which has the appearance of a root is actually the stems of the plant which grow underground. The plant also grows both up above the soil and further down into the soil. In places where fresh ginger is widely available, the leaves are also used to flavor dishes.

Ginger is one of my favorite spices. I use it often in teas, especially when I'm sick or if I have an upset stomach. It's so great for the throat and really helps settle nausea. I also love making masala tea with it. My Indian friend taught me how to make masala tea and coffee. I boil tea leaves with fresh or dry ginger, along with cardamom, cinnamon and sometimes clove. Then I add milk, bring to boil again and strain. It's delicious.

By anon85468 — On May 20, 2010

The part of ginger that is used is the root. what else can you use of it?

By somerset — On Mar 11, 2008

Ginger grows in warm climates, but it can also grow indoor, as a houseplant. It likes plenty of light and humidity. It can be grown from root cutting.

By somerset — On Feb 14, 2008

Just like all herbs and spices, fresh ginger is stronger than dried.

Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth

Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to writing articles on art, literature, and music for WiseGEEK, Mary works as a teacher, composer, and author who has written books, study guides, and teaching materials. Mary has also created music composition content for Sibelius Software. She earned her B.A. from University of Chicago's writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont.
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