They say that variety is the spice of life, and what better plant to prove that example than ginger – a master of both spiciness and variety!
Indeed, ginger is one of the oldest spices cultivated by man, first officially noted back in China in 425 BC, but presumably used for centuries before that. It’s also one of the first spices to be imported out of Asia.
Prehistorians have traced ginger back to origins in Southeast Asia, and followed its route around the world, first across the Pacific (where it was transported by the Austronesian peoples), then across the Asian continent all the way to the Middle East before finally reaching the palatial courts of Europe.
Along the way, the plant picked up fans wherever it landed. And it’s no surprise it was so prized.
Aside from its patented zingy taste, which can make pretty much anything taste better, ginger is a venerable kitchen sink of health benefits, noted particularly for its help with the digestive system but also known for its impact on everything from blood sugar to heart disease to weight loss to osteoarthritis.
And its popularity as both a spice and a medicinal herb ensured that there was always plenty of ginger to go around.
Indeed, the plant has proliferated into several varieties over the centuries, thanks to a combination of natural selection and man-made selective breeding. And we couldn’t be happier to have more varieties of this life-giving spice.
Some of the most popular types of ginger include:
As its first nickname may imply, this is the type of ginger you’re most likely to end up with after a trip to the grocery store or farmer’s market.
It has the familiar look of anyone familiar with ginger: Bulbous and light tan, with thin ribbed skin that can be peeled away to reveal a pleasingly deep yellow, juicy and wonderfully spicy flesh.
As its second nickname may imply, this type of ginger is also most frequently used in the kitchen, offering its delicious bite to everything from curries, soups and stews to smoothies and sodas to cookies – and almost anything else that could benefit from a pop of ginger. Which is to say, anything.
And as its third nickname may imply, this varietal hails from China, though today, it’s popularly grown all over the world.
The Thai version of the plant, this varietal is sweeter – and less smelly – than common ginger. It’s most likely found as a pickled specimen, or sometimes frozen, though it is possible to track down some fresh galangal from time to time at specialty stores.
Mostly, this delicious type of ginger is found in the cultural dishes of its homeland, making everything from Tom Yum Soup to Yellow Curry and even lemongrass tea taste, somehow, that much better.
This odd little variety of ginger certainly has a distinctive look worthy of its grand nickname-sake.
The ginger itself grows in small, round bulbs with ginger’s patented ribbed skin but also sporting a fair amount of flyaway hairs. But the real show-stopper is the plants feathers, which sprout up around it in a striking shade of brilliant purple.
When it comes to consumption, kaempferia is more associated with its scent than its taste, and this varietal often finds itself mixed into everything from soaps to creams to perfumes – though, like all types of ginger, it also has its fair share of medicinal properties, including stimulating new cell growth.
One of the rarest varieties of this spice, white ginger originates primarily in Africa, where it grows wildly in Nigeria, but it can also be found in Nepal, eastern India and even some parts of the United States.
Typically, white ginger doesn’t get as much love in the kitchen as its other spicy cousins. It’s considered much more of an ornamental plant, thanks in no small part to its gorgeous plumes of orange flowers that also lend the plant its beautiful nickname: The butterfly flower.
But white ginger has also been traditionally considered an aphrodisiac, and can be used for all the other common cures ginger is best known for.
Still, no matter which ginger variety you end up going for, it’s all but guaranteed that you’ll be able to get a kick out of the spice.