Ginger from Anqiu in China’s eastern Shandong province is probably on a supermarket shelf near you, if not already in your kitchen cupboard. Last year, Anqiu exported the spicy rhizome to more than 50 overseas destinations, including New Zealand for the first time.
Ginger has been a household essential all over the world for centuries. The spicy taste and pungent aroma make it a perfect ingredient for soups, teas and stir-fries. Used to flavor cakes and cookies in the west, the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans also value ginger’s medical and nutritional properties, which are believed to have antiviral, energizing and anti-inflammatory effects.
Anqiu, known as “the hometown of ginger and garlic in China,” produces not only the most but also arguably the best ginger in the country. Anqiu’s ginger output makes up 20% of the national total and accounts for about 60% of China’s total ginger exports. There is a good chance that the ginger you find in popular supermarkets, such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s in the UK, comes from Anqiu, as China accounted for 37% of global ginger exports in 2019.
But poor harvests in 2018 and 2019, coupled with the logistical disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic, have led to a supply crunch in both domestic and global markets, sending the wholesale price of fresh ginger up by 90% from 2019. The price of so-called yellow ginger - the old, dry type - has climbed even higher, almost tripling from a year earlier.
For 47-year-old Yu Chunhai, who has more than 20 years of experience growing ginger in Anqiu, the recent boon in ginger prices is something he has rarely seen.
"We are looking at the best price in the past six years,” said Yu. “Now no one worries about sales and we would rather put the ginger into the cellar after harvest and sell later.”
During Christmas last year, UK supermarkets reported they had none of the fresh root available, sparking fears that families would be deprived of Christmas treats such as gingerbread men, according to a Daily Mail report, which cited a shortage of supply from China and more stay-at-home cooking during the pandemic.
Today, Anqiu ginger is one of 200 geographical indications (GI) protected under an agreement between China and the European Union that came into effect in March 2021. The EU-China GI Agreement protects around 200 iconic European and Chinese goods against imitation and misuse and recognizes 100 GIs each from the EU and China, with a second batch to follow that will include an additional 175 GIs each from the EU and China within four years.
Anqiu grows 12,000 hectares of ginger annually, with a total output of more than 1 million tons, a third of which is exported. The China and EU GI agreement is expected to further raise the profile of Anqiu ginger and boost exports.
Anqiu’s 500 years of successful ginger-growing history comprises several factors. The local soil is high in nitrogen and potassium, creating unique conditions for its growth and contributing to its high quality. Anqiu ginger has a smooth, lustrous surface and a pungent flavor with ginger oil content of about 3.0% to 4.0%, higher than average.
Anqiu farmers start sowing from late April and the ginger is harvested in mid to late October, before the first frost arrives. The freshly harvested ginger is best stored in cellars, with a temperature between 14 ℃ to 16 ℃ and relative humidity of about 90%.
To protect the Anqiu ginger GI, the local government has stepped up efforts to ensure quality. According to Liu Jianping, deputy director of the Anqiu City agricultural products quality and safety regionalization management office, Anqiu has established agricultural products quality testing points in 102 communities throughout the city. It has also assigned 106 inspectors, covering every single village under the city’s administration, to enhance quality control.
So the next time you have a cup of ginger tea or make a batch of gingerbread cookies, check to see where that root came from Anqiu.