Ginger Is a Superfood You Should Always Have in Your Kitchen—Here's How to Store and Cook With It

Fresh or ground, pickled or preserved, this anti-inflammatory spice adds pungent heat to a wide world of savory dishes, confections, and baked goods.

fresh ginger sliced
Photo: Johnny Fogg

Spicy, earthy, and pungent, with a lingering sensation of heat, ginger has worked its flavorful magic for centuries. Fresh or ground, alone, or blended with spices, this superfood transforms countless dishes from the ordinary to the sublime.

While some cooks pigeonhole ginger as a wintry spice best used for baked goods like gingerbread, they're missing out on a world of possibilities. "Ginger is incredibly versatile. It spans the sweet-savory divide," says Ethan Frisch, co-founder of Burlap & Barrel, a public benefit corporation that sources single-origin spices directly from farmer cooperatives and smallholder farms. Here's what you need to know about buying, storing, and getting the most out of this incredible cultivar.

What Is Ginger?

Thought to be native to Southeast Asia, ginger is a rhizome, a plant stem that grows horizontally, spreading its roots underground; it has shiny leaves, tall shoots, and ginger flower clusters visible. There are about 1,300 species of flowering ginger plants (its botanical name is Zingiberaceae) and several types of edible ginger, including Zingiber officinale, the ginger commonly found in the supermarket.

How to Buy Fresh Ginger

Long and knobby, with papery brown skin and a rootlike appearance, fresh ginger can be broken off and sold in chunks. Look for plump pieces with a firm texture. Avoid any that are shrunken or fibrous.

How to Prepare Ginger

If you've wondered whether using a peeler is the best way to remove the skin on a piece of fresh ginger, or if the trick of using a spoon is better, we have news. You can skip that pesky step altogether. "You never have to peel the skin of ginger—but make sure it's organic. It's the part that touches the soil," says Frisch. He adds that the skin also adds spiciness to ground ginger.

Julienne and Mince

To julienne fresh ginger, thinly slice against the grain, spread in a row like a deck of cards, and slice lengthwise to create long strands. To mince, turn the julienned strips 45 degrees and chop.

woman chopping ginger
Lucy Lambriex / Getty Images

Fresh vs. Ground Ginger

Different types of ginger are intended for different uses. "There are gingers that are grown to be consumed fresh, and then there are those that are best in powdered form," says Sana Javeri Kadri, the CEO and founder of single-origin spice company Diaspora Co. Ginger best eaten fresh has a high water content, she says, while ginger grown to be powdered has more depth.

Diaspora Co sells ground Makhir, a small, fibrous ginger variety historically used for its medicinal properties, primarily in Meghalaya, in northeastern India. Kadri was blown away when she first caught a whiff. "Not simply because it was spicy and a very gingery ginger, but because it had these lovely floral and lemongrass-y notes, and a lot of depth of flavor," she says.

Burlap & Barrel's ground Buffalo Ginger, a spicy heirloom variety from northern Vietnam, has a fruity, floral aroma and intense heat. "It has a knobby appearance, which reminds people of buffalo. Ginger seems to attract animal metaphors," Frisch jokes, pointing to another variety, elephant ginger, from Indonesia.

How to Store Ginger


Storing fresh ginger comes down to personal preference. Frisch puts ginger knobs in his refrigerator's produce crisper. "I'm not precious about it. If it looks shriveled, it's time to buy more," he says. Kadri also keeps it in the fridge and slices it as needed. You can also make a paste in the food processor, then freeze single-use portions in an ice cube tray, she says.


As for ground dried ginger? You can leave it out for easy access or store it in a dark, cool spice cabinet. How potent it is and how long it lasts depends on how fresh the spice was when you bought it. It could be a year—or three. Supermarket spices often sit in warehouses and shipping containers for long periods, in suboptimal conditions, Frisch explains.

Cooking With Ginger

Ginger imparts remarkable flavor to gingerbread, brandy snaps, and ginger pudding. It can be made into tea, cooked down to a jam, preserved in sugar syrup, or sugar-coated and dried into snackable crystallized ginger. Ginger is integral to the blends of chai masala, and haldi doodh, used for golden milk. It adds a kick to stews, curries, stir-fries, cocktails, and salad dressings—and pickled ginger clears the palate between bites of sushi.

Spicy Flavors

As for its best flavor applications? "It's complex and spicy, along the lines of chile peppers or peppercorns. It's in the same family as turmeric and cardamom, so you can swap it out and broaden its flavors," says Frisch. He notes that ginger is used throughout India, China, Southeast Asia, and West Africa, too. In Zanzibar, it's sprinkled on cups of local coffee.

Savory Flavors

Kadri embraces ginger's savory side. "Because ginger is so warm, it's very tempting to pair it with all the other warming spices, like cardamom, nutmeg, and cinnamon—spices that are frequently seen in a sweet context," she says. "But for me, maybe because I'm Gujarati, 'ggp'—or garlic ginger paste—is the base of most of my cooking."

Swapping Fresh for Ground Ginger

Can fresh ginger be swapped for ground ginger, and visa versa? It depends on the recipe. "Ginger, when powdered, becomes a lot spicier, and more potent than fresh ginger," says Kadri.

Health Benefits and History

In ancient India and China, ginger was prized for its medicinal value, remedying digestion problems, joint pain, and colds. Today, it's known that gingerol, ginger's natural compound, aids digestion and relieves nausea and gas. It also has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, benefiting conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.

A precious commodity through the ages, ginger was exported from India to the Roman Empire and spread to Europe through Eurasian trade routes known as the Silk Road. By the Middle Ages, Europeans had baked their take on gingerbread.

Spicy gingerbread cookies in fanciful shapes called fairings were popular at Medieval fairs, but the holiday tradition of gingerbread men took root when Queen Elizabeth I had ginger biscuits made to resemble visiting big wigs. The point? Sweet or savory, ginger rules—and always has.

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