Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

Ginger is the pungent, aromatic rhizome of a herbaceous tropical plant, Zingiber officinale, that is distantly related to the banana. It lends its name to a family of about 45 genera that are found throughout the tropics, and that include galangal, grains of paradise, cardamom, and turmeric. The name comes via Latin from the Sanskrit singabera, meaning horns or antlers, which the branched rhizomes resemble.

Ginger was domesticated in prehistoric times somewhere in southern Asia, had been brought in dried form to the Mediterranean by classical Greek times, and was one of the most important spices in medieval Europe. The cake known as gingerbread dates from this time; ginger beer and ginger ale from the 19th century, when English taverns sprinkled powdered ginger on their drinks.