Ginger – The Queen of Spice Has an Interesting and Mysterious History
Next to the King of Spices, Black Pepper, Ginger is perhaps the most frequently used, widest spread and overall most successful of all the spices.
Interestingly, for such a common food, we have no idea where it actually originated.
Black pepper was first discovered, and is still grown, in the mountains of Southern India. Cloves are claimed by the Spice Islands and Zanzibar. But no one know where exactly ginger first appeared.
Farmers Have Become Ginger’s “Wing Man”
Wild ginger, as it might have been found by some lucky caveman or woman — or maybe a Neanderthal — tending their small plot of veggies, no longer exists. It has been grown by human for so long that it no longer produces seeds and has become totally dependent upon man to continue.
By the way, corn is another plant that is in a similar situation. It totally depends upon man to open it’s seed pods (the ears) and spread the seeds. If man stopped shucking and shelling the kernels, it has been estimated that corn would be extinct inside of 3 years.
Ginger is propagated by splitting the root. This is the reason that it is so hard to determine exactly where it started from.
Historic Evidence in Languages
Six thousand years ago the Austronesians, who lived around the area that is today Southern China, migrated westward. Eventually, and I mean over several thousand years, they populated vast areas all around the Indian Ocean as far south as Madagascar.
Through “linguistic detective work” we know that this movement took place and we also know that one of the things the took with them on the journey was ginger. The word “ginger” as remarkably similar in the many languages of the lands around the crescent bordering the Indian Ocean.
The Spice of the Common Person
Part of what made ginger so widespread was the fact that it never became a superstar in the spice world.
While the holds of the early Arab and later European trading ships would be full of black pepper or cloves, up top the sailors would have ginger growing in wooden troughs for their own use. Ginger was, and still is, eaten to aid indigestion, help circulation and prevent scurvy. It also just tastes good — something a sailor on a years-long sea voyage would especially appreciate.
Naturally, as some of them decided to leave the ship and settle in these foreign lands, they took their ginger with them. And unlike many spices, ginger will grow almost anywhere.
And it has.