Ginger is not just a plant but a family of plants known as the Zingiberaceae family (ginger family) and contains both edible and ornamental ginger plants.
Some ginger plants produce more than one edible portion. So not just rhizomes (roots), stems, leaves, and flowers can also be edible.
Common ginger is just one of the edible ginger plants whose rhizome is edible. This underground reserve bulb is what many people cannot live without!
Not every type of ginger family plant is just grown for its edible parts!
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What Gingers are Edible?
As the name suggests, edible ginger plants are the parts of the ginger family whose leaves, flowers, or roots are edible. There are two types of ginger plants.
- Ornamental Ginger – Grown for their flowers for beautifying the garden
- Edible ginger – Grown for their edible portions.
Many ornamental ginger plants are also edible and the classification is the primary reason plant is being grown.
Let us look at the common ginger plants that are grown for their edible parts.
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Types of Edible Ginger
Apart from common cooking ginger, a variety of edible ginger plants exist. They all impart that ginger taste that we have come to take for granted in our ginger tea and food.
1. Common Ginger (Zingiber Officinale)
This is your popular supermarket ginger. Apart from being called common ginger other names include Canton ginger, true ginger, or cooking ginger.
It is easy to grow and cultivated on a large scale for public consumption. It finds usage in all forms; fresh ginger, powdered ginger, and dry ginger root.
There are many benefits of ginger.
- Fresh ginger rhizome benefits cooking and marinating in paste or grated forms
- Ginger extracts also find use in medical, packaged edible items, and hot beverages
- Ginger powder is vital in baking, cooking, and making cold beverages like ginger ale
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The flower head grows on a separate stem that lacks leaves. The flower head is green and bears several bracts that are closed- they lie flush with the flower head. Flowers emerge from bracts and appear almost like an orchid flower.
Flowers have 3 yellow petals (1 large one and 2 smaller ones) with a blood-red petal emerging from these 3 petals.
2. Beehive Ginger (Zingiber spectabile)
Named after the appearance of the flower heads, Beehive ginger looks like a beehive. Other names include “Ginger Wort” and “Malaysian Ginger”.
This edible ginger is usually not used much in the cuisine world. Instead, it is more common in medical fields for treating health issues.
- Leaves are pounded into a paste and used for treating pain, headaches, and burns
- Rhizomes can be used in cuisine the way ginger is used but it is not as potent
Flower heads can be 12 inches long. Situated on a spike, the bracts on the flower head appear like a beehive and can be red, orange, white, or yellow.
Actual flowers are small, with distinct yellow spots on a purple petal. Flowers themselves are papery in texture and very delicate.
3. Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
Perhaps one of the most common Indian spices is Turmeric. This yellowish-orange rhizome is actually a member of the ginger family.
Its Orange ginger rhizome’ creates a deep yellow powder due to the presence of a colored compound called Curcumin.
- The turmeric rhizome is usually useable in powder form to give food a flavorful but somewhat bitter taste
- Turmeric powder can also act as a food coloring agent
- Turmeric is of cultural significance and is important in various Indian religious functions
The flower head bears many stem bracts but not all will result in flowers.
The flowers that are formed are usually white with or without a pink hue. Each flower has tapering petals that make the flowers appear narrow and pointed.
4. Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum)
Known as True Cardamom or Green Cardamom, this plant is also part of the ginger family. Cardamom ginger grows well in Southern India which is a major cardamom exporter. This spice acts as a base of most Indian cuisine.
- Cardamom seed pods are often used in desserts
- Ground cardamom powder is useful in many Indian cuisines and also in making tea (and other hot beverages)
- Cardamom is also used for its medicinal properties as per traditional Indian Ayurveda
The flowering stems stand at a height of 3 feet (36 inches). Flowers have green petals. From these green petals comes a white lip petal with purple veins. Each flower has a size of approximately 5 cm.
5. Shampoo Ginger (Zingiber zerumbet)
Also known as Bitter Ginger or Pinecone ginger. This type of edible ginger originated in Asia.
- As with other edible ginger plants, this ginger rhizome is also used in cuisine, and extracts from the rhizome are used in herbal medicines.
- The fragrant flowers act as a natural shampoo and conditioner that naturally softens and shines hair.
- Additionally, flower stalks are used to infuse flavor in meats while cooking
The flowers of these edible ginger plants bear a distinct fragrance. As the name pinecone suggests, flowers resemble a cone. They are initially green and measure 1.3 to 3.9 inches.
Flower heads with protective scales conceal yellowish-white flowers which gradually bloom.
A characteristic of this flower is that when the flower head and bracts mature, they produce a thick fragrant fluid. This turns the flower head bright red.
6. Japanese Ginger (Zingiber mioga)
This ginger species is native to Japan, China, and areas of Southern Korea. Unlike most gingers, the reason for growing this ginger is its flower buds which are popular in Japanese cuisines.
- Growers harvest the flower buds and sell them all before the buds even open. Flower buds are a delicacy in Japanese cuisine. Many dishes are garnished with the fine shredding of these immature buds.
- In Korean cuisine, the buds are placed on skewers alternatingly with meat and roasted over a fire
The flower head has a pinkish green appearance that has individual buds. Each bud opens up into a whitish-yellow flower. These individual buds are the most important part of the plant.
7. Mango Ginger (Curcuma amada)
This ginger family member exhibits less ginger taste. Instead, it shows more of a turmeric and mango taste. This sweet and earthy ginger rhizome finds a place in South and Southeast Asian cuisine.
- This ginger exists in Ayurveda treatment for centuries in treatment as a laxative. It is also orally used to treat cough, cold, and even bronchitis
- Whole ginger rhizomes are useful in pickling and fermenting
The flowers are bright pink at the top parts of the flower head. In the lower parts, they appear to be faint yellow in color.