The root has thin brown skin. Inside it is bright orange and hard. Its smell is like a combination of musky mango and ginger. It has a warm taste like ginger, but is bitter afterwards — many find it even unpleasantly bitter. It’s never used as a spice on its own but in combination with other spices, to provide a tone of bitterness.
The root is also starchy, letting it act somewhat as a thickener.
In India, the root is mostly used fresh as a spice and a thickener. Fresh, grated zedoary root is often used in Indian pickle mixtures called “achar.” When used as a thickener, Indians refer to it as “shoti.”
When very young, zedoary roots are eaten as a vegetable in Thailand. In China and Indonesia, zedoary is more often used dried in curry powders for seafood dishes. In Asian stores, you can buy dried zedoary powder which the Chinese call “kentjur”, or in dried slices. When slices are dried, they go grey on the exposed surfaces, and yellowish and greyish inside.
There are two varieties of zedoary. The short, round one is the variety classed as “Curcuma zedoaria”; the long, thinner one is classed as “Curcuma zerumbet.”
Zedoary is grown throughout South-East Asia. It now also grows in Florida.
It’s also used to provide some of the bitterness in making Swedish Bitters.
Used as a folk remedy for indigestion in Asia.
Zedoary is probably native to North-Eastern India. It was introduced into Europe by the Arabs in the 500s becoming popular in the Middle Ages. Now, its use in Europe has been replaced by Ginger and Turmeric.
One name for zedoary in some dialects in India is “amb halad”, alluding to its fragrance (“amb” meaning mango).