Tamil Time-Traveler
As Fundamental as Onions

“Fresh ginger is as fundamental to the Asian kitchen as onion is to European cuisine.” — Molly O’Neill

Ginger Flower

Ginger I – Ginger Basics: Ginger, like Rice, was an ancient Tamil time traveler around the Pacific Rim.  Ginger, which grows underground and has beautiful red and yellow flowers above ground, is one of the most important foods in Asian kitchens.  And Ginger is healthy, too!

Natives of South India: Linguistic detectives have found out that the names for Ginger in the Indo-European languages all come from ancient South Indian languages of the Dravidian language family. Both these vital Asian foods — Ginger and Rice — appear to be ancient natives of South India.

The Plant: Ginger is a gnarly plant that resembles a human hand.  In fact, the technical name for a clump of raw ginger is a “hand” of ginger.  And the smaller parts are called “fingers.”

So you sometimes find cookbooks instructing you to cut a finger from a handof ginger.

A Hand of Ginger

Roots? Ginger grows underground, and is often called “Ginger Root.” Actually, Ginger is what is called a rhizome, which means it is a horizontal underground plant stem with roots that sprout out from the stem at random.  These roots are a kind of tuber, more like a potato than a true root.

Ginger’s Cousins:Ginger is part of a family that includes two important relatives: Lesser Galangal, which is a vegetable, similar to a yam and used in Thai cooking. Greater Ginger, the other relative, has a spicy and sweet flavor and is used as a spice in Southeast Asian cuisine.

Galangal, an important Southeast Asian spice


Ginger History: Ginger was cultivated in Southeast Asia from about 3,000 years ago.  It had spread to Europe by the Middle Ages — the army of Henry VIII in England used it as a medicine.

“Long cayenne peppers, ginger from Mecca,, and bundles of chicory, taken as security for woolen goods.” — Dimitri Merejkowski, The Romance of Leonardo da Vinci

Ginger Geography: Major countries that produce Ginger are:

  • India
  • China
  • Indonesia
  • Nepal

Most of the other Pacific Rim countries produce Ginger, which is also grown in Australia and many parts of Africa.  In North American markets, besides Jamaica, Hawaii is a source of early Ginger in the winter months.

Ginger in Pacific Kitchens: Ginger spread early through the Chinese, Indian and Southeast Asian culture spheres.  It is as important in Asian kitchens as onions in the West. And ginger has important medical uses and health benefits.

Nutrition: Raw Ginger has only about 80 calories in 100 grams, while the powdered form has about 336 calories. Whether fresh or powdered, Ginger is a source of Vitamins A and C as well as phosphorus and potassium.

Ginger for Healing: Physicians of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Indian Ayurvedic Medicine treated Ginger as a potent tonic, by itself and as an ingredient in different prescriptions.

Ginger is a familiar culinary spice that has long had  a strong reputation as a medicinal plant.  Doctors in both ancient China and India regarded Ginger as an important medicine and used it in combination with other things in a variety of remedies.

People in many parts of the world value Ginger for is warming effect and role in stimulating digestion, help with upset stomachs, relieving nausea, motion sickness and various aches and pains.

Health Benefits: Major benefits of Ginger include:

  • relieving nausea and motion sickness
  • reducing stomach discomfort
  • reducing blood clotting
  • relieving migraine headaches
  • helping in pain management

There is some evidence Ginger may help control intestinal parasites, assist in managing arthritis, and helping prevent development of cancers.  The list continues, with extensive research being done in a number of Asian and European medical centers.  Physicians in North American appear to be unaware of much of this research.

Taken in moderate amounts, Ginger is nontoxic and has many health benefits.  Some people experience mild gastrointestinal distress when too much Ginger is taken on an empty stomach.  So it is best to take Ginger with food.

Much of the medical study of Ginger has focuses on two groups of compounds it contains, called gingerols and shogaols.  These give ginger its characteristic taste.  In addition, Ginger contains other enzymes and antioxidants that may be key components.  Among them are a group of compounds called eicosanoids which appear to benefit healing and immunity.

When Ginger is Dried, the gingerols convert into shogaols, which may have different properties, especially as anti-inflammatory agents.  So people with arthritis and other inflammatory conditions may benefit from using more than one form of Ginger.

The Avatars of Ginger: Since the fresh and dried forms of Ginger have different properties, the greatest benefits may come from taking more than one form of Ginger.  Over history, a number of avatars have evolved, taking advantage of its many properties.  These can help Ginger fans obtain the greatest benefits from Ginger.

For Further Information:

Margaret Conrad and Heather MacDonald, The Joy of Ginger —
Letha Hadady, Asian Health Secrets; The Complete Guide to Asian Herbal Medicine (New York: Crown, 1996) —
FaXiang Hou, Unleashing the Power of Food; Recipes to Heal By (Baltimore: Agora, 2003) —
Fumiko Matsumnoto, Tadashii shokuseikatsuno tame no shokuhin seibunhyo (Tokyo: Shibata Shoten, 1995)
Tetsuji Morohashi, Dai Kanwa Jiten, v.9, p. 946, art.32110, “Chiang.”  —
Molly O’Neil,“By Ginger!”  New York Times Magazine, September 27, 1997–
Julie Sahni, Savoring Spices and Herbs —
Nina Simonds, A Spoonful of Ginger  — —
Andrew Weil, M.d., Sponaneous Healing (New York: Knopf, 1995)  —
“Ginger,” article, Wikipedia —
Selene Yeager, The Doctor’s Book of Food Remedies (Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale, 1998) —


1 thought on “Ginger

  1. Asian food is every bit as diverse as it is delicious. I used to think that I knew Asian foods growing up. You see, we used to go out to Chinese and practically every weekend. They were a couple Chinese restaurants in the neighborhood, and they were perfect for us kids. They were greasy, flavorful, and we got a cookie at the end of every meal. What more could a child ask for?’

    Latest article content on our web portal

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *