What Is Ginger? How to Prep, Cook, Store Ginger

Ginger adds warm spiciness to any dish. It is delicious in sweet foods (cookies, pumpkin pie) and savory foods (stir fry, meat braises) and even beverages (ginger ale, masala chai). Learn how you can start using ginger in your cooking today.

4 pieces of ginger root on white marble backgroundPin
Various forms of fresh ginger from the grocery store (beware of buying dried and moldy ginger — find buying tips below)

What Is Ginger?

Ginger is an aromatic and spice that is widely used in cuisines from all over the world, especially in Asian cooking. Ginger root is the main part of the ginger plant that you will use in cooking and should be part of your everyday pantry. Learn about the different ways to cut up ginger, how many foods contain ginger from sweet to savory to sour, and how to store it.

Close up look of a slice of ginger on white backgroundPin
A close-up view of a slice of unpeeled ginger.

What we call ginger is the root of the ginger plant. Google a photo of the ginger plant to see its long, narrow leaves and beautiful purple flowers with pale yellow flecks. Ginger root is the most common part of the flowering plant that is used for flavoring food in Asian cuisine. As ginger was one of the first spices exported during the spice trade, it plays a role in European cuisine as early as during ancient Greek and Roman times.

Ginger comes in multiple forms:

  • Fresh
  • Dried
  • Pickled
  • Candied (crystalline ginger)
  • Powdered
  • Redheads (you can blame Alex for that joke)
A piece of ginger with a red wig and high heels photoshoppedPin
Alex’s creation of Ms. Ginger

How to Prep Fresh Ginger

Fresh ginger root has a paper-thin skin that protects the moist, pulpy golden flesh inside.

By its nature of being the root of the plant, the ginger root grows in the soil. Even though ginger at the grocery store usually looks clean and free of dirt, I always rinse ginger with water to clean off any dirt and dust.

How to Peel Ginger

  1. You can peel ginger with a spoon by scraping the skin off using the edge of the spoon.
  2. You can peel ginger with a vegetable peeler.

TIP: I found peeling ginger with a vegetable peeler significantly faster and easier than peeling with a spoon. It is much easier to peel fresh ginger. I wouldn’t recommend peeling frozen ginger as it’s a frustrating process.

A spoon peeling ginger root on white platePin

Do You Peel Ginger Root Before Using It?

There are many factors to consider. As a busy home cook, I do not peel ginger, which is why I wash it well before chopping it up. Restaurants peel ginger. Young ginger has tender skin, which doesn’t need peeling. Mature ginger can have rougher skin that gives you an undesirable texture in your foods. Some people claim that you may want to peel ginger because ginger skin imparts a trace of bitterness to your foods. I haven’t found this bitterness to be true or maybe the other flavors cover it up.

A side-by-side comparison of spoon peeling ginger root versus a peeler on white platePin
It is easier to peel ginger with a vegetable peeler than with a spoon.

When cooking ginger in stir fries, stews, braises, and baking, I typically don’t bother peeling it. I’ve never gotten sick or had a problem with bitterness because I left ginger skin on.

However, there are occasions when you might peel ginger, such as when brewing ginger tea, slicing finely to steam with fish, and making candied ginger.

This seems to be a controversial topic. I don’t peel ginger, fresh or frozen. You can peel if you find the skin to be bitter or leave a rough texture in your food. As with all cooking advice, it depends on the dish and how you’re cooking (or not cooking, if eating raw).

How to Cut Ginger

Similar to garlic and onions, ginger is stronger the more finely you chop it.

TIP: The finer the ginger the easier it burns. If you are stir frying minced or grated ginger in hot oil, you need to move quickly. Slicing is more forgiving and slower to burn.

From the least to the most pungent cut style:

  • Cubed: Large chunks of ginger chopped into cubes are great for braising and making candied ginger
  • Sliced: Useful for stir frying seafood like crabs or stir frying vegetables. Sliced ginger can also be boiled to make ginger tea and masala chai
  • Julienned: Peeled and julienned ginger is often used for stir frying and topping on raw fish, like flounder, before steaming
  • Minced: Minced ginger is added to desserts, smoothies, sauces, and curry as well as part of fillings such as in pork and shrimp wontons
  • Grated: Ideal for desserts like pumpkin pie, cookies, and lightly flavoring salad dressings or tea.
Infographic on how to cut ginger with different style of cutsPin

TIP: I enjoy the background flavor of ginger but hate eating ginger directly. I always chop ginger into big slices so that it is easy to identify and remove from cooked food. Cooking with thick slices of ginger has saved me from accidentally biting into a chunk of ginger many times.

How to Eat Ginger Raw

Raw ginger can have a spicy, peppery flavor that overpowers your tastebuds. It is a strong and pungent spice with a distinct flavor.

Few people eat sliced ginger raw. Typically, raw ginger will be added in tiny amounts to flavor desserts and drinks, such as tea and smoothies.

Pickled ginger is a favorite in Japanese cuisine where it is pickled with vinegar and eaten as a palate cleanser when enjoyed alongside sushi.

How to Cook With Ginger

Cooked ginger is much milder than raw ginger. My friend Paul once told me that he couldn’t taste ginger directly in Chinese stir fries. Yet, he always felt like his stir fries lacked a certain oomph. When he finally realized what he omitted and began adding ginger, it made all the difference, even if it’s a bit of a background flavor.

TIP: Chinese cuisine adds ginger to remove the “fishy” flavor from fresh-water fish that tends to taste “like mud” (Alex’s words, not mine). Chinese people add ginger to braising meats to remove strong beef and lamb flavors. So if you’ve found certain seafood and meat too strong in flavor, try adding sliced ginger and green onions when cooking to neutralize undesirable gaminess from meat and fish.

There are so many ways to cook ginger depending on whether you’re cooking ginger alone or adding it to savory dishes, sweet desserts, or beverages. Let’s dive in to see all the ways you can use ginger.

RELATED: How to Make Spice Sachets (Sachet d’Épices) Using Coffee Filters and Teabags where you can put ginger in your spice sachets

Foods and Drinks With Ginger Only

  • Candied ginger (fresh ginger cooked in simple syrup)
  • Ginger beer and ginger ale (fresh ginger)
  • Ginger tea (fresh sliced ginger)
  • Ginger and coke (an age-old Chinese remedy for curing the common cold ?)
Ginger and lemon tea made from ginger, lemon, and orange peels in a glassPin
Ginger and lemon tea made from boiling ginger, lemon juice, lemon peels, and orange peels. Enjoy with honey to offset the bitterness from the citrus peels.

RELATED: Taste Test: Does Crushing or Toasting Spices Make Better Chai?

Foods With Ginger and Other Ingredients

There are many ways to cook with both fresh ginger and powdered ginger in meat and dessert dishes. Sliced fresh ginger does well with slow cooking, braising, and stir frying. Powdered ginger or finely grated fresh ginger does well in baked goods.

Here are examples of foods that use ginger to give you inspiration on how to explore ginger or use up remaining ginger in your kitchen.

  • Desserts
    • Gingerbread cake (ginger powder)
    • Pumpkin pie (fresh ginger or ginger powder)
    • Gingersnap cookies
    • Gingerbread cookies
  • Savory Dishes

Ginger Works Well With…

  • Tofu
  • Chicken (ginger chicken, ginger soy chicken wings)
  • Seafood and fish (white fish, crabs, salmon, shrimp)
  • Red meat (braised beef, braised lamb)
  • Stir-Fry (beef strips, cabbage)
  • Cloves, cardamom, nutmeg (in curries, cupcakes, pies, gingerbread, and masala chai)
  • Curry (Thai-style curry and Indian-style curry)
  • Pumpkin and winter squashes
  • Carrot
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Snow peas
  • Green beans
  • Honey (salad dressing, ginger tea)
  • Cilantro
  • Mint
  • Lemon (ginger and lemon tea)
  • Coke (ginger and cola boiled to make a sweet drink)

Recipes With Ginger

Stir-Fry Garlic and Ginger Green Beans with Chili Sauce
This green beans stir fry is easy and delicious. Add the chili sauce for a touch of spice or skip it to keep it mild. This stir fry dish reheats well in the microwave.
Get the Recipe
Homemade Sugar-Free Masala Chai (Tea)
A sugar-free chai for people who love drinking spicy chai but don't want the sugar-laden mixes from the store. Tweak the spice ratios to create a chai that's tailored to your tastebuds.
Get the Recipe
Thai Coconut Curry
This easy & customizable Thai coconut curry with tofu and vegetables can be adapted to whatever tofu, meat, seafood, and veggies are in your fridge. Make double to enjoy leftovers the next day.
Get the Recipe

How to Substitute Ginger

Ginger is part of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae). It is related to turmeric, cardamon, and galangal, which makes any of those roots and spices excellent substitutes for ginger.

If you are out of powered ginger for desserts, you can grate fresh ginger root to substitute. I like to substitute 1/4 teaspoon of freshly grated ginger for 1/2 of powdered ginger. But your measurements may vary depending on how old your ginger is.

If you’re out of fresh and powdered ginger, use cinnamon or cloves or another warm spice in your desserts.

I would avoid substituting powdered ginger for stir frying and steaming fish because stir frying ginger powder will cause the ginger powder to burn in the hot oil.

If you’re out of ginger for a stir fry, you can substitute with garlic and/or green onion. It won’t taste the same but those aromatics will add flavor to your oil and add depth to your veggies.

Cooking with fish, you can replace the ginger with garlic and leek instead of ginger to add flavor and cover the fishy smell.

Where To Buy Ginger

You can find fresh ginger at any grocery store in the produce refrigerated section, usually next to other herbs, mushrooms, and bagged salad. If you see a massive piece of ginger root, it is acceptable to break off a smaller nub to buy only as much as you need. It is better to buy less ginger and purchase it more frequently than to buy ginger in bulk because it dries out quickly and is often wasted.

The exception is Trader Joe’s which normally sells ginger next to the onion and garlic in red netted bags. You won’t be able to break off a piece so pick the plumpest ginger that doesn’t look dried out.

Ginger root on white marble background with some ginger in a red bagPin
I prefer to buy ginger that is stored in the refrigerated produce section where I can pry off a nub of ginger rather than get a bag of ginger.

You should be able to find powdered ginger in the spice aisle. Try to buy the freshest powdered ginger possible as it can lose its aroma over time.

Candied ginger is usually in the baking section next to the dried cranberries and nuts.

Is Ginger Seasonal?

Ginger is in season in the fall. But it is usually available all year-round at the grocery store thanks to global exports.

How to Pick Fresh Ginger

Choose fresh ginger root with bright golden yellow skin that has a smooth and satiny texture. The ginger should not look dry or shriveled. The ginger should not have moldy nubs.

Observe the knobby skin on the ginger to see if it has moldy spots. It can be hard to stop because ginger has so many nooks and crannies. Pick up a slab of root and look from different angles. Pick a plump root that looks moist inside (you can tell from where someone broke off a nub) with smooth skin.

Old and shriveled ginger on the left next to plump and fresh gingerPin
Both pieces of ginger came from the same red netted bag from Trader Joe’s. Notice how fresh and plump the ginger on the right is. Compare that to how old and shriveled the ginger on the left is. The ginger on the left even has moldy spots. Opt for ginger that you can inspect and break off a nub to purchase what you need to avoid buying old ginger as I did. If you must buy bagged ginger, inspect carefully to make sure you don’t end up with a dud.

How to Store Ginger

I store ginger whole in the fridge. I like to keep it on the fridge door shelves next to the butter compartment. I’ve also seen ginger stored in the non-refrigerated produce section in the grocery store. I would guess that ginger is best stored in the fridge if you don’t use it quickly but it would be OK stored in your pantry if you know you go through ginger quickly.

You can slice ginger on the weekends along with onions and garlic to prepare for cooking during the week. Store sliced ginger in a glass container. It will last a week.

How to Freeze Ginger

If your ginger looks like it is getting dry or about to go bad, you can slice ginger and freeze it in plastic baggies. You can also grate the ginger and put it in ice trays to freeze. Add a bit of oil to the grated ginger to keep it fresh. Then take the ginger frozen like an ice cube and store it in a plastic container or a Ziploc bag and use it like fresh ginger.

Grated frozen ginger next to grated fresh ginger on green backgroundPin
It is easier to grate frozen ginger than fresh ginger. The grated pieces fall from the grater with ease.

You can also store ginger whole in the freezer and grate it for use. Peeling frozen is challenging. If you care about having peeled ginger and you want to grate frozen ginger, you need to peel the ginger before freezing.

WARNING: Don’t stir fry with frozen ginger. The hot oil will spatter everywhere when you put frozen ginger into the wok. Use fresh ginger to stir fry. If you insist on using frozen ginger, defrost it first and make sure to remove excess water.

Fun Things To Do With Ginger

  • Frozen ginger works better for grating than fresh ginger because there are less “fibrous ginger bits” getting in the way, according to TheKitchn. You can put an entire root of ginger into the fridge and grate the frozen ginger for baking and making tea. It has the side benefit of extending how long ginger lasts for. Use a fine grater, and it’s optional whether you want to peel it or leave the skin on.
  • Don’t add raw ginger to your steak marinade, according to Molly Birnbaum and Dan Souza, Executive Editors at America’s Test Kitchen in an interview with Wired. There is an enzyme called zingibain that acts as a powerful tenderizer that results in mushy meat. You can reverse this tenderizing effect by adding acid in your marinade, using apple cider vinegar, lemon or lime juice, or balsamic vinegar. Or you could use this enzyme to your advantage and marinate tough cuts of meat, such as beef chuck roast, with raw ginger to make it tender.

FAQ About Ginger

Is Ginger Root Safe to Eat Raw?

Yes, but it might be spicy. In the case of eating raw ginger, you may want to peel it to get rid of the tough skin. Check out tips on how to peel ginger.

Anna looking down chopping vegetables
About Anna Rider

Hi! I'm Anna, a food writer who documents kitchen experiments on GarlicDelight.com with the help of my physicist and taste-testing husband, Alex. I have an insatiable appetite for noodles 🍜 and believe in "improv cooking".

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