This rhizome (zingiber officinale) heads up its own botanical family. Growing wild in Southeast Asia, ginger rhizomes produce a tall perennial plant with a broad stem, fat leaf blades that grow up the stalk, and tiny purple flowers.
The rhizome is used in several forms. It can be grated or sliced fresh, dried and ground to a powder, pickled in vinegar, or candied in sugar crystals or syrup. It plays a central role in all Asian cuisines, as both a central element and as part of more complex spice and herb combinations.
Once introduced to Europe, ginger became an indispensable element of medieval cookery. Its relevance in spiced foods has not diminished, and it’s still used on its own or in conjunction with other sweet spices in baking.
Ginger can be found fresh in most supermarket produce sections and dried in the spice aisle.