A member from the Zingiberaceae family which also contains turmeric (Curcuma sp.) and cardamom (Amomum sp. and Elettaria sp.), ginger is a tropical, aromatic, perennial herb which is most likely native to tropical Asia (yet has been cultivated for so long that the exact origin is unclear). The part used is its fleshy rhizome, often mistakenly referred to as a root. Ginger is widely cultivated in many tropical countries. It is believed that the Spaniard, Francisco de Mendosa, transplanted ginger from southeast Asia or the 'East Indies' in 1547 to the 'West Indies' (most of the Carribbean) and Mexico. The Spanish cultivated it extensively and then exported it in large amounts to various countries in Europe. Prior to this, ginger used in Europe was obtained from Middle Eastern spice traders.
The genus name is a derivation of the Latin gingiber, which originated from the Sanskrit srngaveram, which breaks down to the word for horn or srngam and the word for body which is vera, denoting the horn-shape of its root. Ginger has risen to be among the top twelve spices most consumed in the United States, replacing fennel seed. Presently, the main producers of ginger are India, China, Indonesia, Nigeria, the Philippines and Thailand, although other countries such as Jamaica produce it as well. The 'white ginger' is the peeled rhizome that is often produced in Jamaica and the 'black ginger' or unpeeled rhizome, is mostly from Sierra Leone and China.
The first recorded use of ginger goes as far back as its appearance in the ancient Chinese herbal Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, written by emperor Shen Nong around 2,000 B.C.E. and the ancient Sanskrit text of India, the Mahabharata, around 400 B.C.E. In the latter text, a recipe with stewed meat and ginger is described. In Ayurveda (the traditional healing system of India) one of the many Sanskrit names for ginger is shunthi or sunthi thought to be derived from the ancient city that bears the same name mentioned in the epic Indian text, the Ramayana (which was from around the same time as the Mahabharata). This city was thus considered an ancient capitol of the ginger trade by 200 B.C.