saturday spice: ginger, the horn root


previous saturday spices:

cardamom, 11/15/15

cloves, 12/05/15


[ginger, zingiber officinale, india/china]

Let’s get back on this boat and sail a little north to our next destination: China!

But first I need to take a potty break in India. So typical, stopping the entire carpool half an hour after setting out from the last potty break.

I’m sorry.

Ginger is most often associated with China, and for good reason, but based on examining the large amount of genetic variation among ginger species on the Indian subcontinent, it is assumed that the root is native to this area. Perhaps some species of ginger are indigenous to China, or maybe the Chinese were the first to get to the root.

The reason we most associate ginger with China is that they wrote about it first. The first known mention of ginger, dried or whole, in China showed up approximately 4,000 years ago, while Indian texts started mentioning the spice only 2,300 years ago. For the sake of simplicity and fairness, let’s assume ginger is native to both India AND China.




To be honest, though, it doesn’t even matter: ginger no longer grows in the wild, and is now cultivated all over the world. Furthermore, the root has been propagated from trimmings for so long that it can’t produce seeds anymore.

Arab traders, for a long time the rulers of the eastern spice trade, brought ginger from east Asia to Roman Alexandria, planting rhizomes all along the way. Fun fact, people from the Arabian peninsula not only helped spread ginger around the world, but they were also the first to bring coffee from Ethiopia east to Yemen. Those of us who love coffee and gingerbread (and really anything using eastern spices) owe a lot to the Arabian peninsula.

When Rome fell in the first half of the first millenium C.E., Gallic and Gothic nations helped proliferate some spices (and another fun fact: the reason we still use the word “spice” to refer to the species of ancient Rome is because the Goths had no appropriate word of their own, and adopted from Latin), but unfortunately, ginger was not one of them. For half a millenium, the root was lost to Europe.

Right when Y1K struck, making all those medieval computers go bonkers, Europe rediscovered ginger, and by the 14th century, the only spice more valuable was black pepper (which has been among the most popular spices since the trade first started.)

The Portuguese, who, thanks to Vasco de Gama, took over the spice trade in the middle of the second millenium, introduced ginger to west Africa, while Spain carried it over to the Americas later.


but where did those little luscious human-shaped cookies come from?

Queen Elizabeth I (1533 – 1603) is credited with the invention of gingerbread cookies.

Also, you can thank Queen Isabella of Portugal for helping bring spices to North America (while also cursing European royalty for the damage they did to the Native Americans), and Marie Antoinette for the invention of croissants. 


what can i make with ginger?

vegan spiced banana nut muffins | | balinese ginger tea | | ginger turmeric cookies | | cardamom molasses cookies | | apple chai-der pie | | gluten-free sweet potato muffins | | black tea butter cookies

other ideas:

crystallized ginger | | fried rice, stir-fried noodles (mie goreng, etc.) | | pickled ginger for sushi | | gingerbread | | ginger pork | | ginger syrup (for lattes or cocktails) | | ginger ale or ginger beer | | ginger cupcakes | | Japanese pork dumplings | | Chinese chicken rice porridge, congee



Later, we’ll take a look at uses and health benefits of the root.

Get pumped, y’all.

Nick P.



“Ginger History.”

Hubpages. “The History of Ginger: From India to the New World.” 2010 Feb 16.

Kaminsky, Steffany. “The History and Use of Ginger.” 2010 Jan 21.

“Origin and History of Ginger, Traditional and Current Uses.” 2015 Sep 20.

Turner, Jack. Spice: The History of a Temptation. 2005 Aug 9. pub. Vintage.




upcoming spices:



ginger: health benefits

Categories: food history, saturday spice