Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is actually a flowering plant originating from southeast Asia that began being exported thousands of years ago. This is because of the multiple uses for its rhizome, ginger root, which is the part of the plant that you are used to seeing in stores and referring to simply as ‘ginger’.
A rhizome, technically, is a modified plant stem that sends out roots and shoots. Because of this, rhizomes are also sometimes called ‘rootstalks’. Other rhizomes you may have heard of include turmeric, galangal and lotus root, all commonly used in cooking as spices, just like ginger. The classification of ginger root as a plant stem also means that it is related to potatoes and, less closely, strawberries, which further complicates how we classify it.
Fruits vs Vegetables
The classic definition of a fruit that most of us learned in school is that it has seeds. Apples, oranges, plums, peaches…. you could go on for a long time, but they all have seeds. Carrots, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and so on – these don’t have seeds. But then you’d hit a problem or two – tomatoes and cucumbers. Suddenly the split between fruits and vegetables doesn’t seem so clear cut. Tomatoes and cucumbers are fruits; they have seeds. But they serve as vegetables when it comes to their culinary uses. This highlights the fact that a foodstuff can technically fall into one category but be used in another.
But what about ginger?
And so, to ginger. Despite not providing the nutrients typically associated with vegetables, being the stem of a plant means that ginger is, technically, a vegetable. But it is rarely used as such. You wouldn’t have a side of ginger with your typical Sunday dinner. Instead, the strong flavour of ginger means that it is used as a spice or herb and its sweet taste lends it to being useful in both sweet and savoury foods. Whilst you might flavour any meat dish with ginger, it is also used to flavour the festive treat gingerbread, and also ginger beer.
Health benefits of ginger
Ginger has also been shown to have many health benefits. It has been used as an herbal remedy for thousands of years, and with good reason. Ginger is known to settle stomach upset and, as a result, reduce nausea and vomiting. Ginger can also lower blood pressure and help to reduce artery damage. However, as a result of this, it is important to consult a doctor before consuming ginger if you have a low blood pressure or are on medication for your blood pressure.