Variously known as ginger, adrak, adruk, inchi-ver, gingembre, zanjabil, Ingwer, khing, and myin this is probably the most versatile and distinctive spice in the world. In South Asian cuisines ginger plays a major role. There is no other flavor quite like it. Ginger is simultaneously lemony, hot, pungent, slightly woodsy, and sweet. Thought have originated in the lush jungles of the Indian Subcontinent, ginger is now known worldwide. Ginger's name derives from the Sanskrit term srngaveram, derived from the words srngam "horn" plus vera- "body" referring to the antler-like shape of its rhizome.
Ginger thrives in rich well drained soils and subtropical conditions as you can see in the above photo of a ginger field growing in India. As ginger is a perennial plant the stalk withers with the onset of Winter and the ginger rhizome is harvested in early Spring.
There's a bit of confusion as to whether there are different types of edible ginger. Rather than different breeds there is what is called "green" ginger which you see in the left side of the above photo and mature ginger on the right. Green ginger is just young ginger from a plant that's probably less than two years old: it is less fibrous, juicier, and milder in flavor and heat than mature ginger. The hotter, more flavorful, and fibrous mature ginger rhizome is from a plant older than three years.
Fresh ginger is called "adrak" or "adruk" in Hindi and gets it's heat and flavor from the aromatic compound gingerol. Heating or cooking fresh ginger causes the gingerol present to transform to zingerone. Zingerone is similar in structure to vanillin (an artificial vanilla flavoring) and eugenol (the compound responsible for the flavor of cloves). So when we cook raw ginger it becomes sweeter and spicier. Candied ginger is a good example of the flavor of zingerone.
|The Desi mirepoix: ginger, onions, garlic, & chilis.|
Fresh ginger or adrak is a part of what I call the "Desi mirepoix" of ginger, garlic, onions, and green chilis. When sautéed in oil or ghee these ingredients form the flavor base in the layering of many a Desi dish from dals to meat curries. Fresh ginger's pungency and heat mellows when cooked this way to rich, mildly lemony, and subtly sweet notes. These harmoniously subdued flavors provide a perfect background for the earthy notes of traditional South Asian spices like cumin, fenugreek, and red chilis. Fresh ginger is often an ingredient in spice mixtures for milky chai in Winter or chilly regions like the Himalayas. When julienned, fresh ginger is often used as an attractive and tasty garnish atop dishes at fancy restaurants and posh dinners in South Asia.
Dry ginger is called "soonth" or "sunth" in Hindi and has a different flavor than fresh or cooked ginger. When fresh ginger rhizomes are dried a dehydration reaction is triggered, causing the gingerol present to transform to a compound called shogaol. Shogaol is twice as hot as gingerol which is why dried ginger tastes so much hotter than fresh ginger.
Dry ginger or soonth features in many Desi cuisines. Although dry ginger is only used in baked sweets in the West in South Asia it lends it's almost peppery heat to chutneys, chai, dals, curries, and spice blends. Punjabi cuisines often use it in marinades for tandoori meats and in masalas for lentils, beans, and vegetables. Dry ginger is one of the traditional spices commonly used in Kashmiri dishes along with fennel, black cardamom, and the famous red chili known as Kashmiri mirch. "Sukku kaapi" is a tea made with dried ginger in South Indian states specially brewed for cold winter mornings.
|Mmmmm...ginger-y hot chai, my favorite!|
Calmly currying on,