My maternal grandmother makes the world’s best ginger snap cookies. I don’t care who you are, you will never give me a cookie as good as my grandmother’s ginger snaps. And part of that, I have no doubt, is 30 years of associating them with my grandmother.
Ginger is a tuber in the same family as turmeric*, cardamom and something called galangal. It is native to southeast Asia, but the cultivation of it has spread to East Africa and the Caribbean. The name ginger comes from the Old English word gingifer by way of: Medieval Latin, Old Latin, Greek, Pankrit and finally Sanskrit. It is used in cooking and medicine and has a sialagogic property.
In the east, ginger is often used in savoury dishes — usually chicken or fish — while in the west, it is often made into sweet dishes (like my grandmother’s ginger snaps). It is used in tea pretty much everywhere. As a medicinal herb, it is a powerful agent against nausea, which explains why ginger ale seems to be a popular choice when one is ill, and apparently seasickness.
India leads the world in ginger production turning out almost twice as much (420,000 tons) as China (285,000 tons), which is the second-largest producer.**
*Do not, under any circumstances, snort turmeric. It does not feel awesome. A lesson I learned at the age of about 17 while following my mother’s suggestion that I smell the various spices. Turmeric, it turns out, is a very fine powder that is easily accidentally inhaled.