A factlet about some of our most popular spicy spices used in cooking today – ginger, pepper and horseradish.
Ginger is a root related to the plants that provide us with cardamom and turmeric, and distantly related to the banana. The pungent spicy chemicals in ginger are called gingerols, which when dried become shogaols, which are much spicier.
The compounds that provide the spice in pepper (piperine) and chillies (capsaicin) are chemical relatives of gingerols. Pepper comes in black, white, green and pink (though ‘pink peppercorns’ are from a completely different plant), referring to different ways the raw berries have been treated.
Horseradish and wasabi are both relatives of the cabbage family, and their pungency is provided by a very different chemical – sinigrin. Used as a chemical defence in the plants, it is far more volatile than piperine, capsaicin or gingerol, which is why horseradish and wasabi irritates right up the back of the throat and nose and not just the tongue.