Ginger, aka gingerroot, goes so far back exact origins would be difficult to determine.
There is reason to believe that the first gingerbread was made in Greece about 4,500 years ago. In the fifth century BC ginger was imported from India to Persia and at approximately the same time frame Confucius wrote about the pleasing health properties of ginger. Further on, in the first century A.D., Greek physician Dioscorides, who wrote the Materia Medica, similarly extolled ginger's human health virtues.
Arab traders were bringing ginger into Greece and Rome, but kept their sources a secret. Ginger is mentioned in the Koran, indicating to those virtuous enough to reach paradise that they will not be denied the pleasure of ginger flavored water. Ginger could be readily transported still growing in pots aboard vessels, without having to be processed, therefore was traded extensively during the Middle Ages.
Ginger, or gingerroot, it's not really a root at all. Yes, it does grow underground and therefore some folks consider it a root, but in reality it is called a rhizome. Which, in brief, means that is a stem of the plant growing underground, thus, differentiating it from a root. These rhizomes have a gnarled almost arthritic look to them and are nicknamed hands.
In today's marketplace you can purchase ginger fresh, dried, ground, crystallized or preserved either in vinegar, (pickled), or sweet sugary syrup. Many folks just like to eat whole ginger in either its pickled or syrupy condition. For those of us in the kitchen fresh ginger or dried is our mainstay. A common ingredient in Asian cooking from the rich curried dishes of India to the wonderful stir fried meals from the Orient, ginger plays a major role.
When buying fresh ginger at the grocery store look for bright, plump, firm and clean “hands.“ When you get your ginger home store it in an open container in the cupboard the same way you would keep your onions and garlic. One thing that I like to do is to peel and grate a large quantity of ginger. I will place a tablespoon of this grated ginger in each pocket of an ice cube tray, filling the tray with water and freezing. The next day, when it's all frozen, I’ll remove it from the freezer and put all of my gingered ice cubes in a marked freezer bag. Now I have fresh grated ginger quickly available to add in my cooking.
When preparing fresh ginger most of us will take a potato peeler or a knife and cut off the outside skin. This can be difficult because there are few smooth surfaces with ginger. You will notice there is a considerable amount of waste. When working with ginger try this; taking a spoon and using the sharp edge scrape the skin off the ginger. In this fashion you're getting mostly just the skin and very little of the flesh.
The flavor of ginger is bright and floral with the capacity to combine well with many common foods like beef, pork, chicken or seafood, as well as vegetables and especially fruits and melons, such as honeydew and cantaloupe. One of my favorite recipes that I've shared in the past is a wonderful summertime treat of cubed melons tossed with a mixture of honey and grated ginger then drizzled with lime juice. One of the most refreshing warm weather treats one could imagine.
As mentioned earlier a fabulous use for fresh ginger is ginger lime water. Many people today are looking for alternatives to the overly sweetened soda pops and other commercial beverages. Check out the following recipe, you and your family will be mightily pleased.
Ginger Lime Water
1 large pitcher of water, add some ice to chill it down
1 Tbl fresh grated ginger, or one ginger ice cube
7 or 8 mint leaves
4 thin slices of lime
Place all of these ingredients in the picture of water, stir, and allow to stand for about an hour or two. You may then strain out the solids. Sometimes I like to place the lime slices back into the water as they have not yet given up enough of their flavor.