Ginger, Zingiber officinale, is the underground stem or rhizome of the ginger plant, a lovely large-leafed plant with delicate white and pink flowerbuds that become yellow when open. The roots are gathered when the plant stalks begin to wither. Freshly gathered ginger roots are scalded or washed and scraped to stop fermentation and sprouting. Fresh ginger is juicy and fragrant, with a mild flavor. Older ginger roots become fibrous, less juicy and the flavor is significantly stronger. Dry ginger holds its flavor fairly well and is primarily used for baking. Fresh ginger is used for teas, making ginger ale and beer, ginger wine, and in both savory and sweet dishes. It is also pickled or crystallized with sugar syrup and used as a sweet on its own, or added to baked goods, salads or entrees for additional flavor. Unopened flowers are used in some countries in soups and salads.
Ginger originated in Asia and is used extensively throughout Asia in cuisine and also as a medicinal herb. It is grown commercially throughout Asia, in West Africa and the Caribbean.
Ginger’s medicinal value is well documented. It is used in traditional Chinese medicine, in Ayerveda and in Western medicine, as well being used as a folk remedy nearly worldwide. It is warming to the body, and useful as a tea at the beginning of a cold or respiratory illness. It settles the stomach and is very helpful with morning sickness and motion sickness. The FDA considers it safe to use medicinally.
Galangal is also a rhizome in the Zingiberaceae family and looks very similar to ginger in appearance, but has a significantly different flavor. It is more citrus-like in flavor, with an earthy aroma. It is also dried and ground like ginger. Galangal is used extensively in Thai and other Southeast Asian cooking, as well as medicinally. Although it is available in Asian markets in the U.S., it is not as easily available as ginger. Ginger is used as a substitute when galangal isn’t available.