Fresh ginger has a tangy freshness, warmth, and a mellow sweetness. It can be a dominant flavour, notably in desserts, or it can work with other flavours. Many of the recipes in this book start with an onion, ginger and garlic paste.
Ginger is the root of the plant, but the plant also produces yellow flowers that have great aesthetic value. As an ingredient, it is pungent in flavour and is common in all the regional cuisines. Note that in some of the northern cuisines, dried and powdered ginger is used – fresh ginger and ginger powder taste very different and are not interchangeable.
Ginger is known to stimulate the production of saliva, which makes swallowing easier. It is thought to have great medicinal benefits, notably for treating coughs, cold and influenza.
India is the largest producer of ginger in the world. The plant is thought to have originated in India because the plants grown in India show the largest amount of genetic variation. Ginger was first exported to Europe in the first century CE.
Ginger is best bought from a greengrocer. You want to look for a light-coloured skin, and some pliability in the root. A darker skin indicates an older root, and these root tends to be harder. Buy as little as you need, as the root will lose its flavour quickly.
Having said that, I usually buy a largish root, peel it and cut it into usable pieces – around 40g – and store the pieces in an airtight glass container, covered in sherry. The root lasts several weeks this way, and does not lose its flavour. I only change the sherry occasionally, say once a year.