Used for millennia in Chinese pharmacopoeia, the reputation of ginseng, whether the root is white or red, is well-established. But does there really exist two types of ginseng root?What are the differences between these two roots?
What is the difference between white ginseng and red ginseng?
- Red or White Ginseng: A Matter of Extraction Method and Maturation
- So, are there differences in terms of composition and properties?
Red or White Ginseng: A Matter of Extraction Method and Maturation.
Originating from Asia, ginseng is a plant associated with longevity. Its name comes from the Chinese word "rénshēn", meaning "man-root". Indeed, the shape of the rhizome generally resembles a man with rootlets and roots serving as arms and legs. Whether you choose red ginseng or the white version, know that both come from the same species, which is the Panax ginseng C. A. MEYER also known as "Asian ginseng". However, the root changes color depending on the manufacturing process and the growth duration of the selected roots.
The red ginseng typically comes from roots that are at least 6 years old. The red hue is characteristic of a traditional preservation process still used in Korea. Once harvested, the rhizome is immersed in a sugar-rich liquid, before being dried at high temperature in a kiln. This method extends its shelf life (beyond a year), and preserves all of its benefits and active ingredients.
White ginseng, on the other hand, is prepared from four-year-old roots and results from a natural process that involves cleaning the root, before allowing it to dry in the sun at a low temperature between 86 and 104°F to remove the water. Thus, the naturally dark color of the ginseng root lightens at the end of the process.
So, are there differences in terms of composition and properties?
But do these differences in processing methods impact the properties of ginseng? Indeed, the manufacturing process influences the quantity of certain active ingredients present in the root and also enhances the bioavailability of the plant's active molecules.
The saponin content varies between red ginseng and white ginseng. These include ginsenoside, which is the primary active ingredient in ginseng responsible for its benefits. The main difference is observed in two types of saponins: Rg saponins and Rb saponins.
When red ginseng is heated, it loses most of its Rb type saponins (balancing) due to the high temperature, thus it will have a strong dominance of Rg saponin (energizing). Its richness in Rg saponin gives red ginseng energizing, stimulating, and toning properties. This botanical extract is then beneficial for mature or tired skin, but also for thin hair or hair lacking vitality. White ginseng contains more Rb saponin, as it has not undergone high-temperature heat treatment. This active substance is notably known for its soothing properties.
Be aware that red ginseng typically contains a higher amount of ginsenosides compared to white ginseng. This is due to its late harvest and manufacturing process. Ginsenosides are active ingredients that promote collagen production and possess antioxidant properties. Thanks to this active ingredient, it helps to restore firmness to your epidermis, reduce the appearance of dark circles, limit the appearance of wrinkles, and protect your hair from the risk of falling out.
Polysaccharides represent another major component of ginseng. These active ingredients support skin hydration by forming a protective film on the epidermis, thereby limiting water evaporation. However, their content varies from one type of ginseng to another.
Indeed, a study conducted in 2018 demonstrated that the concentrations of reducing sugars are higher in red ginseng than in white ginseng due to the degradation of sugars during processing. On the other hand, the total level of phenolic acids is relatively higher in white ginseng, while trans-ferulic acid and esterified phenolic acids are more abundant in red ginseng.
Maltol and its glucosides have been regarded as artificially synthesized products due to the Maillard reaction in the processing of red ginseng. A study in 2005 also showed that antioxidant activity increased with the Maillard reaction, suggesting that red ginseng has a higher antioxidant activity than white ginseng.
SAMARAS T. S. & al. Antioxidant properties of kilned and roasted malts. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (2005).
JIN Y. & al. Effect of white, red and black ginseng on physicochemical properties and ginsenosides. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition (2015).
WANG M. & al. The difference between white and red ginseng: variations in ginsenosides and immunomodulation. Planta Medica (2018).