Ginger - a colonizer from the tropics

About the origin of ginger

This article was published earlier in the "Hortus Magazine" of the "Botanical Garden of Amsterdam" of December 2013

 by Fred Triep  

In the Netherlands we know ginger particulary as stem ginger from a jar, but this spice has many culinary and medicinal uses. You can encounter ginger in gingerbread and ginger ale, but ginger would also increase libido and protect against cancer.


naar de Nederlandstalige pagina
(to the original Dutch version)

Ginger is an important spice derived from the rhizome of the ginger plant ( Zingiber officinale). The name Zingiber is derived from Sanskrit which means the bull horn. The ginger plant is also the namesake of the family to which he belongs, the Zingiberaceae (ginger family).
The Zingiberaceae have a pantropic ( = all tropical regions of the world) distribution. Southeast Asia includes the most species. The plants of this family are perennial and forms creeping rhizomes under the ground. A rhizome is an underground, horizontally running, whether or not swollen stem. To the family belongs fifty-two genera and thirteen hundred species .
Even after modern DNA research, this family remained intact .The family has only become smaller, because one has split off the Costaceae. A common property of these two families is the presence of only one fertile stamen. The other stamens are sterile (staminodiŽn) and are fused to the lip of the flower. At the Zingiberaceae only the inner staminodiŽn are fused to the lip, at the Costaceae all staminodiŽn .

The plants in the Zingiberaceae family are vigorous growers who can colonize large areas with their rootstock. Species of the beautifully blooming genus Hedychium (including H. gardnerianum, the Kahili ginger from India and Nepal ) behave like a rampant weed in the Azores , Hawaii and New Zealand

The ginger plant grows from the rhizomes rows of sprouts, which are also called pretence tribes: the sprouts are, as well as in the bananas, not real tribes. They consist of the leaf sheaths of the leaves, which are coiled around each other. The shoots can be up to one hundred and twenty centimeters long. The leaves are pinnately veined, they are about eight inches long and one inche wide.The inflorescence is a green spike, in which the flowers are. The calyx of the flower is white and the petals are pale yellow. The lip of the flower is purple with yellow spots.


The genus Zingiber includes about one hundred forty species, many of which have medicinal and culinary uses. They are originally from South Asia (China, India, Malaysia). Ginger is used in Europe before the voyages to India. Europeans bought it from the Arabs, who get ​​it from Asia.

Besides pepper ginger was the most traded spice in the 13th and 14th centuries.

The ginger plant is widely grown in India, Bangladesh, Taiwan, Jamaica, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. The culture is usually done vegetatively by planting rhizomes and grow them out. The harvest takes five to seven months later. To obtain the dried ginger the rhizomes are boiled or peeled or scraped. Peeled ginger is called "white" ginger. Ginger, which is not peeled, is called "black" ginger. From the fresh and dried ginger can be made ginger oil ​​by steam distillation. With organic solvents oleoresin, a colorant or a flavoring agent for food, can also be extracted from ginger.

TOP 5 ginger producing countries

Number Country

Production in 2004 in metric tons

Production in 2008 in metric tons

1 India 301.900 382.600
2 China 274.852 328.810
3 Indonesie 152.704 192.341
4 Nepal 117.000 176.602
5 Thailand 104.789 161.505

Source:  FAOSTAT data, 2007 and 2010

From the dried rhizome has been made ginger powder ​by grinding. It tastes sweet and pungent, by the presence of the compound gingerol. By drying gingerol disintegrate in the substance shogaols, which is twice as pungent as gingerol. Thus, dried ginger is more pungent than original ginger. In addition, the rhizome contains an essential oil, from which the main ingredient is zingiberene .

Relatives of Ginger

In the Zingiberaceae family there are even more useful plants for humans. From the galanga (Alpinia galanga) the rhizome has been ground into the spice laos. Turmeric has been prepared by boiling, drying, cleaning, again drying and grinding the rhizomes of Curcuma longa.
he cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) the rhizomes are not used, but the seeds. Also in the "grains of paradise" or "alligator pepper" (Aframomum melegueta) the seeds are the spices. The seeds are used locally in West Africa.
Some plants of the ginger family are also grown for ornamental use. This applies for species from the genera Aframomum ( 50 species), Hedychium (50 species, also called ginger lily) and Roscoea (22 species, also called orchid ginger or Tibet ginger). Some Roscoea species grows freely in northern China and the Himalayas on a high altitude. These species are also hardy and suitable for the Dutch or English garden . An example of this is the purple blooming Roscoea purpurea.

pictures of different plants from the Zingiberaceae family

Zingiber officinale in de Hortus 1 Zingiber officinale 2 Hedychium gardnerianum 1 Hedychium gardnerianum 2
Hedychium coronarium 1 Hedychium coronarium 2 Afromomum augustifolia 1 Afromomum augustifolia 2
Hedychium tara 1 Hedychium tara 2    

Spiced biscuits, gingerbread and other foods

Ginger is used in many products. In Asia it was mainly in savory products, in the Western world mainly in sweet products. Ginger is sold as stem ginger (ginger in syrup of fresh water), ginger beer, as the soft drink ginger ale, candied ginger (candied ginger candy) and pickled ginger (ginger pieces in vinegar). In Europe, it is mainly used in cakes and pastries, such as gingerbread , ginger cake and spiced biscuit.
beer is from the  country Suriname. In Indonesia ginger is used in savory dishes such as babi ketjap. In Indonesia ground ginger is called djahť. Ginger is also a component of curry blends.

Ginger and health

Ginger is healthy for humans. Besides the culinary aspects ginger has a medicinal use. About ginger there are much positive words in books and on the internet, but that's not all confirmed by research. It can promote bowel movements, but it can also be used to prevent vomiting and nausea in motion sickness. Furthermore, it should also have a warming effect on the body, it stimulate blood circulation and increase the libido. Gingerol , shogaol and zingibireen could act as antioxidants in the body and thereby help protect against cancer.

In the
Botanical Garden of Amsterdam, you can find various species of the ginger family in the educational greenhouse (Butterfly greenhouse) and the Tropical greenhouse. 


T.M.E. Branney
Hardy Gingers, including Hedychium, Roscoea, and Zingiber
Timber Press

C. Kalkman
Planten voor dagelijks gebruik- Botanische achtergronden en toepassingen

Stevens, P. F. (2001 onwards).
Angiosperm Phylogeny Website.
Version 9, June 2008

Johan van der Perk
Siergembers- een pittig ingerdient voor de tuin

Gember- Wikipedia

Gember gebruiken (Allerhande, AH), videofilmpje

Gember op

This page has been created on Saturday 28 December 2013.

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