Flavor Investigator: Ginger

Despite its origins in China, ginger has become a spice enjoyed across the world in a variety of cuisines. It is a spice rich in history and well known for its believed healing properties. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a native to Southeast Asia but now is cultivated around the world due to ease of cultivation.  Ginger is a rhizome which is apart of the same family containing turmeric and cardamom.  Overall, the flavour profile of fresh ginger is lemony, woody, earthy and warm.

Regional Differences in the Flavour of Ginger

Different regions around the world will produce slight subtleties which set them apart.  Jamaican ginger sets itself apart by being more pungent and eucalyptus-like than other varieties. It is known for it’s high quality while Nigerian ginger is known for its richness, pungency and sharp green flavour note. In contrast, Australian ginger is described as being the lemoniest of all the cultivars. As well, it is described as having a clean and crisp taste.

Chemical Compounds Found in Ginger

The flavour of ginger is unique and there are not many other foods which provide the inherent taste of ginger. So, what exactly is responsible for the characteristic “ginger” flavour? The compound which is largely responsible for providing ginger flavour is zingiberene. Zingiberene composes 30% of the root’s essential oil but it does not stand alone in providing flavour. Instead, other characteristic flavour compounds like ß-sesquiphelandrene and curcumeneare also are described as being ginger like in flavour.

Even if you are not a flavour expert the first thing you will notice when you taste fresh ginger is an extreme pungency. This pungent taste is a result of the adequately named compound gingerol. is an active chemical found in fresh ginger and is a relative to capsaicin and piperine, two compounds which are responsible for giving chili peppers and black pepper their respective spiciness. However, you will notice once you cook with ginger the spiciness will dissipate. Gingerol when cooked is transformed into a different compound- zingerone. Zingerone instead has a flavour which is spicy-sweet but with less pungency. A good way to think of this compound is to think about ginger bread cookies. They still have an inherently ginger flavour but something warmer and less pungent than fresh ginger.

Possible Flavour Combinations for Ginger

  • Ginger and Egg- Chicken egg flavour will vary greatly depending on their age and storage conditions but when cooked properly they can produce a buttery, salty and rich flavour.  This combination is somewhat similar to black pepper and eggs as the ginger provides a pungency similar to the spiciness of black pepper.
  • Ginger and Rhubarb- When used in a dessert a preparation using sugar is essential to rhubarb as it is able to cut through it’s inherent tartness. This combination is a classic in United Kingdom most likely because the ginger provides a spicy warmness that slashes through rhubarbs astringent flavour.
  • Ginger and Mint- Ginger mint is a hybrid species that goes particularly well with melon, tomatoes and fruit. This herb highlights the ability of ginger and mint to pair together. When offset by a sweet component the two can work in harmony. Ginger provides a lemony, pungent flavour while mint cools the pungent affect adding an element of freshness.

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