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Ginger is one of the most versatile and most-loved spices in our kitchen, whether fresh, dried, candied, pickled, or otherwise preserved. So, in honor of this great ingredient, here’s a guide to buying, storing, and using ginger in all its forms—including the best way to peel ginger, and our favorite ginger recipes.
Fresh ginger punches your food with a wallop of spice. Peppery and pungent with an outer appearance that barely looks edible, ginger’s powerful personality cannot be ignored. The gnarled and bumpy root is not a root at all as it’s commonly called, but a rhizome, the underground stem of the flowering ginger plant. It’s grown in the tropical and subtropical climates of Jamaica, China, India, and Africa, and it’s assertive to say the least. We love ginger’s strength, both in flavor and health benefits. Here are some tidbits, tips, and recipes you need to know.
Also called ginger root, its name comes from the Sanskrit word for “horn root,” no doubt due to its knobby-knee (or knobby tree trunk) looks, according to “The New Food Lover’s Companion.” Underneath its rough, light-brown skin lies an often ivory, sometimes pale yellow or light-green flesh that tastes a little sweet and more peppery. “The Chinese, Japanese, and East Indians use fresh gingerroot in a variety of forms — grated, ground, and slivered — in many savory dishes,” say authors Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. “Europeans and most Americans, however, are more likely to use the dried ground form of ginger, usually in baked goods.” (Like this Chocolate Gingerbread Snacking Cake recipe, for instance.)
Shopping for Ginger and Storing It
Young ginger, available in Asian markets in the spring, is tender and mild with a pale, thin skin that requires no peeling. The more widely available mature ginger has tough skin and a strong bite to it. If the skin is wrinkled, the root is dry and past its prime (sigh).
Fresh, unpeeled ginger, tightly wrapped, can be refrigerated for up to three weeks and frozen for up to six months. “My favorite tip for using ginger, especially when the recipe calls for grated ginger, is to keep it in the freezer wrapped up in aluminum or plastic wrap,” says Jenné Claiborne, who runs the vegan lifestyle blog Sweet Potato Soul, a Youtube channel, and has written a cookbook of the same name.
“Frozen ginger is super easy to grate into any recipe you need, and freezing it helps it stay fresh and preserve that great flavor,” Claiborne says. (Try her Gluten-Free Blueberry Ginger Muffins recipe.)
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Types of Ginger (Besides Fresh)
Dried ginger (aka, ground ginger or powdered ginger): The flavor is different than fresh ginger and doesn’t work well as a substitute for recipes that ask for fresh ginger since it will be muted, but if it’s all you have, add to taste. It’s delicious in savory soups, curries, and meats, as well as fruit compotes, and it’s “indispensable” in baked sweet goods such as gingersnaps, gingerbread, and spiced cookies.
Candied ginger (aka, crystallized ginger): This is ginger that’s been cooked in sugar syrup, dried, and coated in sugar. It’s great in baked goods, granola, and trail mix.
Preserved ginger: This type is found in Asian markets as well as supermarkets and has been preserved in a sugar-salt mixture (or just in sugar syrup). It’s used in confections and other desserts.
Pickled ginger: Preserved in sweet vinegar, this type is found in the same places, and is most often used as a garnish in Asian dishes, like the pink slivers you see on your sushi plate next to the wasabi (though pickled ginger may also be a pale beige).
Aromatic ginger (aka, galangal): Not really ginger, this rootlike subterranean stem is part of the galangal family and has a reddish-brown skin, white flesh, and similar hot, pungent flavor. Known by many names in Southeast Asia and China, such as kencur, cutcherry, and resurrection lily. It’s sold in Aisan markets, often as kencur, in dried form.
How to Peel Ginger
When we’re faced with a knob of fresh ginger, most of us want to peel or cut off the fibrous skin that’s the same beige color as an Idaho potato skin (you actually don’t have to do this if you’re just smashing ginger and using it to infuse a sauce or soup since it will be discarded at the end). But while you can slice the skin off with a knife or use a vegetable peeler, there’s a far better method.
The quickest way to get that skin off—while preserving as much of the juicy, fibrous flesh as possible—is to spoon it. What? No need to get in bed with your ginger, no matter how much you love it. But you can peel off the skin with a spoon. Trust us. It’s so easy! Just scrape away:
How to Prepare Fresh Ginger
Many recipes that call for fresh ginger ask for an inch or so, unless they call for a tablespoon of it in minced form. Cut up your ginger like you would garlic: minced or thinly sliced, depending on the recipe. If you’re throwing it into a smoothie or making juice, no need to go as far as mincing, but chopping it a bit can help. Other recipes call for grating your ginger, which is easier to do if it’s frozen, as Claiborne says.
To make a steaming cup of ginger tea, cut up a hunk of unpeeled ginger and pour boiling water over it. Add some lemon juice and honey, steep, strain, and you’ve got a wonderful cold-weather balm. It’s a good tonic for when you don’t feel well too.
The Health Benefits of Ginger
When you were sick as a child, like throwing-up sick, your mom may have encouraged you to take tiny sips of ginger ale. Your mom’s wisdom stems from age-old advice spooned out through generations across the globe. Asian, Arabic, and Indians have known for centuries that ginger is not only a great spicy food for culinary purposes, but it’s medicinal too.
The gingerol compound in this rhizome is what holds all the antioxidants and anti-inflammatory power.
Ginger is grown primarily in Asia and tropical areas, where it was eaten since ancient times for its taste as well as a remedy for a variety of conditions, including colds, fevers, and digestive problems, and as an appetite stimulant, according to Dr. Brett White in his research report for the American Academy of Family Physicians. Categorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a food additive, ginger also has been studied as a treatment for nausea and vomiting, but studies have showed mixed results on its effectiveness as an arthritis medicine.
Yet dozens of studies show ginger is effective for pregnancy-induced and post-operative nausea and vomiting, White says. There is less evidence to support its use for motion sickness or other types of nausea and vomiting.
“Research on whether ginger works is inconsistent, but it’s safe as long as you aren’t on any medications that interfere with blood clotting, such as aspirin or Warfarin, since ginger can slow clotting,” says Dr. Roshini Rajapaksa, assistant professor at New York University’s School of Medicine and medical director of Health.com. You can eat the root raw, but if that’s too spicy for you, try ginger lozenges, teas, or supplements, he says. It’s also a safe alternative to anti-nausea medicines that have a sedative side effect.
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How to Use Ginger
Here are some of our very favorite recipes featuring ginger in various forms:
Salty and sweet, this is an easy recipe to transform a slab of one of our favorite pink swimmers. True, you might not have mirin, red miso paste, or sesame seeds on hand immediately, but if you can grab those ingredients, this is a pretty good idea for an easy weeknight meal. Get our Miso-Ginger Glazed Salmon recipe.
Related Reading: The Ultimate Guide to Types of Salmon
A lot of great gingerbread cake recipes use ground ginger, but this one packs in a half cup of fresh grated ginger, plus all the usual warm spices you could want, and a little molasses and brown sugar to balance it out. All you need is fresh whipped cream. Get our Fresh Ginger Cake recipe. (Or try our Guinness Gingerbread Bundt Cake recipe, which has a mere two tablespoons of fresh ginger.)
Like many Indian curry sauces, this tikka masala requires a lot of ingredients, but it isn’t hard to make. The freshest whole spices makes for the best flavor, especially the 1 inch of ginger the recipe requires. Get our Chicken Tikka Masala recipe.
Freeze your pork and your ginger for easy slicing and grating, respectively, in this simple, quick, colorful dinner that shouts with flavor. You’ll need a tablespoon of grated ginger, which equals about a one-inch piece of fresh ginger root. Get our Five-Spice Pork Stir-Fry recipe.
Freshly grated ginger add more zing to this tropical cocktail made with fresh mint. And you’ll use a lot, compared to other recipes: 4 inches of ginger. Then the rum and lime and sugar make this drink a crowd pleaser. Get our Ginger Mojitos recipe. (And try our Ginger Bloody Mary recipe too.)
Tired of the heavy food of winter? Brighten and lighten a meal with a colorful Asian-inspired tofu salad, shining with this earthy, yet spicy, slightly sweet salad dressing. Get our Miso-Ginger Vinaigrette recipe.
When it comes to the sweet course, a cozy Gingered Pear Crisp recipe may be more enticing on a chilly winter day, but if you’re ready for a bracing jolt of flavor, embrace citrus season and make this cold-weather fruit salad. It’s spiked with fresh ginger, lime zest, and passion fruit. Get our Zesty Lime and Ginger Winter Fruit Salad recipe.
Now if this soup doesn’t make you feel at least a little bit better when you have a cold, we don’t know what will. It’s worth a shot, whether you’re sick or well. Shredded chicken, onions, garlic, carrots, celery, herbs, and egg noodles are just the thing. Get our Gingered Chicken Noodle Soup recipe.
Related Reading: 13 Chicken Noodle Soup Recipes to Satisfy Every Craving
Rather than minced, sliced, or grated ginger, this recipe from Japanese cooking teacher Sonoko Sakai calls for ginger juice, which is easy to make: Just puree or grate fresh ginger on a piece of cheesecloth over a bowl or measuring cup, and squeeze out all the liquid, leaving the solids in the cloth. Combined with sesame oil, sea salt, and shoyu tare (a mixture of mirin, sugar, and Japanese soy sauce), it makes for a super simple but vibrant sauce for chicken thighs that cook up incredibly crisp on a hot pan under the broiler. Get the Crispy Ginger Shoyu Chicken recipe.
In this recipe, 5 inches of fresh ginger is thinly sliced and used to infuse a marinade with garlic, soy, fish sauce, sugar, star anise, lime juice, and chiles. The marinade then becomes a sauce with the addition of broth and enough simmering to reduce the liquid, and the tender chicken and onions are soaked in delicious flavor. Get our Ginger Chicken Clay Pot recipe.
These are not your average bake sale sweets; these delightfully spicy, damp-crumbed cupcakes have a full 1/2 cup of minced ginger in the batter, plus a little black pepper, cinnamon, and cloves. The sweet whipped cream cheese frosting ensures they’re well balanced, and the crystallized ginger on top amplies all the flavors. Get our Fresh Ginger Cupcake recipe. (For another great candied ginger desert, try Nik Sharma’s Spicy Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe.)
Oh, and we can’t forget to include another favorite type of ginger:
(This dishy specimen is called Cheddar. Some may be allergic, but it’s a recipe that many of us love to pieces.)
Header image courtesy of Science Photo Library / Getty Images