Gingerbread is a holiday favourite which fills the room with the vibrant fragrance of ginger, cinnamon and clove. The term gingerbread comes from the Latin zingiber, meaning preserved ginger and was adapted via Old French word gingebras. The general term of gingerbread is used to describe the broad category of baked goods which are flavoured with the spice blend of ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, anise and molasses/honey. For something to be considered gingerbread, the recipe must feature ginger as the dominant flavour and use either honey or molasses to add sweetness. Early forms of gingerbread are believed to have originated from the ancient Greeks and Egyptians for ceremonial purposes. Overall, gingerbread is described as having a warm spiciness with a dark sweetness.
A Brief History of Gingerbread
The first known recipe of gingerbread comes from the Greeks in 2400BC where it was used for ceremonial purposes. As with most food origins there is a bit of a bit of mystery behind gingerbread. It is claimed that gingerbread was brought to Europe in 992 CE by the monk Gregory Markar from Nicopolis, a city in ancient kingdom of Pontus now located in Anatolia, Turkey. When Markar left Nicopolis to live in Bondaroy (north-central France) he taught French Christians how to make gingerbread. This tradition continued on as the French began to teach the Germans who brought it to Swedish monasteries.
Gingerbread creation became so popular that in the 15th-century Germany created a guild for the controlled production of gingerbread! Colourful gingerbread originated in Germany during the 16th century when elaborate houses became associated with Christmas tradition. Eventually gingerbread would make its way to the New World with English colonists. Molasses was cheaper than sugar at the time and soon became a common ingredient in gingerbread.
Spices Found in Ginger Bread
Over the course of history the recipe for gingerbread has changed depending on location and period of time. For example, gingerbreads made in New England used maple syrup while South England used sorghum molasses. Today it is generally accepted that the spice blend used in gingerbread is ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, anise and molasses/honey. Ginger, is a spice with a warm heat which comes from a rhizome native to Southeast Asia. The compound which is largely responsible for providing ginger flavour is zingiberene. Zingiberene is described as having what we describe as characteristic “ginger” flavour. Ground, dry ginger is traditionally used in gingerbread but can also be used in the form of fresh ginger. Fresh ginger is more peppery and pungent than dried ginger. Furthermore, dried ginger has less of a flavour complexity.
Cinnamon comes in two different varieties, ceylon and cassia. Ceylon is considered to be “true” cinnamon and is described as being subtler in flavour when compared to cassia. If your looking to have a strong flavour of cinnamon in your gingerbread try using cassia as it better stands up to clove, anise and nutmeg. Clove is a highly aromatic spice that proves a strong, pungent hot yet fruity flavour. Cardamom is a spice made from the seeds of several plants in the Zingieraceae family. It provides an herbal flavour which is described as being zesty, citrus peel and fruity. All spice is a mixture of all the former spices as it combines the fragrances of cinnamon and pungency of nutmeg. Nutmeg on the other hand is described as being sweet, woody, nutmeg, spicy with a slight terpy nuance. Gingerbread uses different sweeteners depending on the location. Sweeteners include molasses, honey, maple syrup and brown sugar. Darker molasses will impart richer full flavour while honey will be lighter in flavour.
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