Culinary Arts

What Is Ginger? Learn All About Ginger and Ginger Cooking Tips

Written by MasterClass

May 15, 2019 • 3 min read

One of the few spices that we use in both fresh and dried form, ginger does it all: the fresh stuff is indispensable to Chinese stir-fries, while ground ginger adds spicy warmth to baked goods like gingerbread and gingersnaps.

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What Is Ginger?

Although often referred to as ginger root, ginger actually comes from the rhizome (underground stem) of Zingiber officinale, a tropical flowering plant from the same family as cardamom and turmeric. The sharp bite of raw fresh ginger comes from gingerol, an aromatic compound that transforms into the sweeter zingerone when heated or dried, making ginger an especially versatile ingredient.

Where Does Ginger Come From?

Ginger has been used in China and India for thousands of years. It was imported to the Mediterranean in the first century CE, later becoming an important ingredient in medieval European cooking.

What Are the Health Benefits of Ginger?

Ginger has been used as a medicine for thousands of years in India, China, Greece, and the Middle East, especially to reduce nausea and motion sickness. It’s also known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

3 Ways to Use Fresh Ginger

Fresh ginger can be incorporated into dishes in a number of different ways:

  • Whole, unpeeled ginger is added to water and other cooking liquids to flavor soups and rice.
  • Pickled ginger is used as a condiment in Japanese and Indian cuisine.
  • Minced ginger flavors fried rice and stir-fries, marinades and glazes for meats, and vinaigrettes.
  • Smashed ginger can be made into chutney or smashed together with garlic to form the base of Indian dishes, such as chana masala.

What Are the Culinary Uses for Ground Ginger?

Dried ginger requires less prep work to flavor dishes. It’s simply added to baked goods such as gingerbread, gingersnaps, pumpkin pie, and savory preparations like lentil dal. Ginger is also sold crystalized and candied.

What’s the Difference Between Ground Ginger and Fresh Ginger?

Ground ginger is the dried, powdered form of the ginger rhizome and has less gingerol than the fresh kind. Since they contain different flavor compounds, ground ginger and fresh ginger are not good substitutes for each other. Shelf-stable dried ginger is popular in baked goods, especially when paired with other warming spices, like cinnamon, while fresh ginger adds its vibrant spiciness to countless Asian dishes.

4 Ways to Peel Fresh Ginger

Whether to peel fresh ginger root or not is up to you: Young ginger (look for it at Asian markets in the springtime) has a very thin skin that does not need to be peeled, but you may prefer to remove the wrinkly brown skin of mature ginger with any of these techniques:

  • A vegetable peeler
  • Rubbing the skin with the back of a spoon.
  • A microplane, which is a great tool for finely grating ginger, but ginger’s tough fibers can eventually damage metal tools.
  • Japanese ginger grater, a small ceramic dish with raised nubs that you can rub fresh ginger against. If you find yourself frequently needing a small amount of finely grated ginger, you might want to invest in one of these.

How to Store Fresh Ginger

Fresh ginger can be stored in a dark, cool, and well-ventilated place for up to one month. You can also freeze ginger, grating it as needed, straight from the freezer, no thawing necessary.

14 Ginger Recipes Ideas

Try fresh ginger in:

  • Chicken pho or other chicken noodle soups
  • Ginger beer (and then use your home-brewed ginger beer to make Moscow mules!)
  • Adrak Chai (Indian ginger tea)
  • Carrot and ginger soup
  • Coconut milk-ginger marinated chicken breasts
  • Ginger dressing with soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, lemon juice, brown sugar, or maple syrup
  • Gad pai king (Thai ginger chicken stir-fry)
  • Gari (Japanese pickled ginger)

Dried ginger is essential in baked goods such as:

  • Pumpkin, butternut squash, or sweet potato pie
  • Gingerbread
  • Gingersnaps
  • Lemon-ginger scones

Try candying fresh ginger, or add store-bought crystalized ginger to:

  • Baked apples
  • Pear muffins