Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a flowering plant whose rhizome, ginger root or ginger, is widely used as a spice and a folk medicine. It is a herbaceous perennial which grows annual pseudostems (false stems made of the rolled bases of leaves) about one meter tall bearing narrow leaf blades. The inflorescences bear flowers having pale yellow petals with purple edges, and arise directly from the rhizome on separate shoots.
Ginger is in the family Zingiberaceae, which also includes turmeric (Curcuma longa), cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum), and galangal. Ginger originated in Maritime Southeast Asia and was likely domesticated first by the Austronesian peoples. It was transported with them throughout the Indo-Pacific during the Austronesian expansion (c. 5,000 BP), reaching as far as Hawaii. Ginger is one of the first spices to have been exported from Asia, arriving in Europe with the spice trade, and was used by ancient Greeks and Romans. The distantly related dicots in the genus Asarum are commonly called wild ginger because of their similar taste. In 2018, world production of ginger was 2.8 million tonnes, led by India with 32% of the world total.
The English origin of the word, "ginger", is from the mid-14th century, from Old English gingifer, from Medieval Latin gingiber, from Greek zingiberis, from Prakrit (Middle Indic) singabera, from Sanskrit srngaveram. The Sanskrit word is thought to come from a Dravidian word that also produced the Malayalam name inchi-ver (from inchi "root") an alternative explanation is that the Sanskrit word comes from srngam "horn" and vera- "body" (describing the shape of its root), but that may be folk etymology. The word probably was readopted in Middle English from Old French gingibre (modern French gingembre).
Origin and distribution
Ginger originated from Maritime Southeast Asia. It is a true cultigen and does not exist in its wild state. The most ancient evidence of its domestication is among the Austronesian peoples where it was among several species of ginger cultivated and exploited since ancient times. They cultivated other gingers including turmeric (Curcuma longa), white turmeric (Curcuma zedoaria), and bitter ginger (Zingiber zerumbet). The rhizomes and the leaves were used to flavor food or eaten directly. The leaves were also used to weave mats. Aside from these uses, ginger had religious significance among Austronesians, being used in rituals for healing and for asking protection from spirits. It was also used in the blessing of Austronesian ships.
Ginger was carried with them in their voyages as canoe plants during the Austronesian expansion, starting from around 5,000 BP. They introduced it to the Pacific Islands in prehistory, long before any contact with other civilizations. Reflexes of the Proto-Malayo-Polynesian word *laqia are still found in Austronesian languages all the way to Hawaii.They also presumably introduced it to India along with other Southeast Asian food plants and Austronesian sailing technologies, during early contact by Austronesian sailors with the Dravidian-speaking peoples of Sri Lanka and South India at around 3,500 BP.It was also carried by Austronesian voyagers into Madagascar and the Comoros in the 1st millennium CE.
From India, it was carried by traders into the Middle East and the Mediterranean by around the 1st century CE. It was primarily grown in southern India and the Greater Sunda Islands during the spice trade, along with peppers, cloves, and numerous other spices.
The first written record of ginger comes from the Analects of Confucius, written in China during the Warring States period (475–221 BC). In it, Confucius was said to eat ginger with every meal. In 406 AD, the monk Faxian wrote that ginger was grown in pots and carried on Chinese ships to prevent scurvy. During the Song Dynasty (960–1279), ginger was being imported into China from southern countries.
Ginger was introduced to the Mediterranean by the Arabs, and described by writers like Dioscorides (40–90 AD) and Pliny the Elder (24–79 AD). In 150 AD, Ptolemy noted that ginger was produced in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Raw and preserved ginger was imported into Europe during the Middle Ages. In 14th century England, a pound of ginger cost as much as a sheep.
Ginger produces clusters of white and pink flower buds that bloom into yellow flowers. Because of its aesthetic appeal and the adaptation of the plant to warm climates, it is often used as landscaping around subtropical homes. It is a perennial reed-like plant with annual leafy stems, about a meter (3 to 4 feet) tall. Traditionally, the rhizome is gathered when the stalk withers; it is immediately scalded, or washed and scraped, to kill it and prevent sprouting. The fragrant perisperm of the Zingiberaceae is used as sweetmeats by Bantu, and also as a condiment and sialagogue.
Production in India
Though it is grown in many areas across the globe, ginger is "among the earliest recorded spices to be cultivated and exported from southwest India". India holds the seventh position in ginger export worldwide, however is the "largest producer of ginger in the world".Regions in southwest and Northeast India are most suitable for ginger production due to their warm and humid climate, average rainfall and land space.
Ginger has the ability to grow in a wide variety of land types and areas, however is best produced when grown in a warm, humid environment, at an elevation between 300 and 900m, and in well-drained soils at least 30 cm deep.A period of low rainfall prior to growing and well-distributed rainfall during growing are also essential for the ginger to thrive well in the soil.
Ginger produced in India is most often farmed through homestead farming. Since most ginger crops are produced on homestead farms, the farm employees are mostly family members or other local members of the community. Gendered roles within ginger farming are distributed quite evenly and fairly. From land preparation to seed storage, all works of ginger cultivation in India are generally done by both female and male farmers. Male farmers are widely known as the ones who purchase seeds, do the ploughing, and mulching, while female farmers usually do weeding and both genders share the work of hoeing, digging, planting, manure application, and harvesting. This being said, since these farms are family run the distribution of work is more dependent on the family situation rather than gender. For example, if there are more men in the family then there would be more men working on the farm, but if there are an equal number of men and women, or less men than woman then there would be more women seen working on the farm. Who does the selling of the ginger varies throughout different cities and states in India. In Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Nagaland (all in the Northeast of India) woman are important benefactors in the sale of ginger, but in Sikkim which is also in the Northeast region, men play a larger role than women do in the sale of ginger.
The size of the ginger seed, called rhizome, is essential to the production of ginger. The larger the rhizome piece, the faster ginger will be produced and therefore the faster it will be sold onto the market. Prior to planting the seed rhizomes, farmers are required to treat the seeds to prevent seed-borne pathogens and pests, rhizome rot and other seed-borne diseases. There are various ways farmers do seed treatment in India. These include dipping the seeds in cow dung emulsion, smoking the seeds before storage, or hot water treatment.
Once the seeds are properly treated, the farm land in which they are to be planted must be thoroughly dug or ploughed by the farmer to break up the soil. After the soil is sufficiently ploughed at least 3-5 times, water channels are made 60–80 ft apart to irrigate the crop.
The next step after farmers ensure soil is well suitable for planting and growing is planting the rhizome seed. In India, planting the irrigated ginger crop is usually done in the months between March and June as those months account for the beginning of the monsoon, or rainy and season. Once the planting stage is done, farmers go on to mulch the crop to “conserve moisture and check weed growth”, as well as check surface run-off to conserve soil. Mulching is done by applying mulch (green leaves for example) to the plant beds directly after planting and again 45 and 90 days into growth. After mulching comes hilling, which is the stirring and breaking up of soil to check weed growth, break the firmness of the soil from rain, and conserve soil moisture. Farmers must ensure that their ginger crops are receiving supplemental irrigation if rainfall is low in their region. In India, farmers must irrigate their ginger crops every two weeks at the least between September and November (when the monsoon is over) to ensure maximum yield and high quality product.
The final farming stage for ginger is the harvesting stage and for items such as vegetable, soda, and candy, harvesting should be done between four and five months of planting, whereas when the rhizome is planted for products such as dried ginger or ginger oil, harvesting must be done eight to ten months after planting.
Dry ginger, one of the most popular forms of ginger commercially exported, must undergo drying and preparation to reach the goal product. Ginger rhizomes that are to be converted into dry ginger must be harvested at full maturity (8–10 months), then they must be soaked overnight and rubbed well for cleaning.After being removed from water the outer skin is very delicately scraped off with a bamboo splinter or wooden knife and this process must be done by hand as it is too delicate a process to be done by machinery. After being traded internationally, dried ginger is ground in the consuming centres to which they arrive. Fresh ginger, another very popular form of exported ginger is not required to undergo further processing after being harvested, and can be harvested much sooner than dry ginger.
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