How Ginger Is Made
Ginger is an ancient spice that is coveted for its uses both as a healing plant and as a spice in cooking. Although the leaves of the plant (Zingiber officinale) can be eaten, it is the subterranean rhizomes that are used both medicinally as well as in food preparation.
Ginger originates from Southeast Asia but today is grown in any sub-tropical climate with India being the largest producer of the spice. This perennial grows to about 4 feet in height and has clusters of flowers in pink and white. It is actually quite lovely - so much so that it is used for landscaping in many tropical homes!
In India, ginger is often grown in pots in homes on a small scale, but is also grown in bulk for commercial purposes. There are around 400 different cultivators in India each producing plants with varying degrees of essential oils.
To grow ginger, the rhizome is simply planted in the ground and a new plant springs up. Ginger can actually grow in many places, but moist regions near the equator are considered best.
As ginger ages, the amount of essential oils increases. So, the intended use of the rhizome determines when it is harvested. If it is for use as fresh or preserved ginger, it might be harvested when it is about 5 months old. At this time the plants have not yet matured. The rhizomes are still tender and not quite as pungent. Dried ginger calls for a more pungent aroma so those plants might be harvested at 8 or 9 months. If it is the essential oils that one is after, the plant might be harvested even after 9 months.
Ginger is traditionally harvested by hand although there are mechanical diggers made just for this purpose. Once harvested they may be dried, or have the oil extracted, or sold fresh as they are. For dried ginger, the rhizomes are boiled or scraped and then dried. The dried rhizomes are pulverized into ground ginger - the ginger powder we all have in our kitchen pantry.
Ginger oil can be extracted from either fresh or dried rhizomes and is usually extracted with a steam distillation process which is how most essential oils are extracted from plants. Ginger can be eaten fresh or powdered and while the essential oils are great for medicinal purposes, eating fresh ginger has health benefits and tastes good too!.