From main courses and desserts to cocktails, beer and wine, the humble ginger root is popping up on tables everywhere this season. Sweet and spicy with a kick, ginger has been used for centuries for its unique flavor and aroma, as well as its health benefits. Learn how to choose, prepare, and use fresh ginger like a pro!
Originally cultivated in South Asia before spreading all over the world, ginger root can be cooked, pickled, candied and made into tea. For many Americans, ginger is forever entwined with the holiday season, from the delicious smell of gingerbread baking in the oven. Used for gingersnap cookies, candy-coated gingerbread houses and merry gingerbread men and women, this traditional holiday ingredient is full of nostalgia.
But the uses for ginger don't stop at holiday treats. Ginger's ability to alleviate pain and nausea have made it a go-to folk remedy for thousands of years. Ginger settles the stomach and is a natural motion sickness remedy. Ginger tea has also been used to treat the common cold for ages, and today it’s the hottest new ingredient for cocktails and other alcoholic beverages. And of course, ginger still tastes perfectly sweet and spicy on all those holiday cookies, be they gluten-free, dairy-free, whole wheat or plain old gingerbread with icing.
How to Choose Your Ginger
Fresh ginger is available year-round in most grocery stores and at many farmers markets. Look for firm, smooth roots that are heavy for their size and have a zingy, spicy smell. Avoid roots that seem light or have wrinkles and shriveled ends.
How to Store Ginger
Always keep your ginger root refrigerated. Wrap the unpeeled root loosely in paper towels, and refrigerate for up to three weeks. For long-term storage, freezing works well for up to three months.
How to Prepare Ginger for Cooking
Using a vegetable peeler or knife, remove the peel only from the section of root that you plan on using immediately. After cutting off the peeled portion, wash it well and then place the rest of the root in a plastic bag to use for later. You’ll need a sharp knife to slice your ginger thinly; otherwise use a cheese grater to mince it into bits. Be sure to slice the root perpendicular to its fibers, otherwise you’ll end up with stringy pieces in your food.
Ideas for Cooking with Ginger
You can toss bits of ginger into all kinds of baked goods and savory recipes to impart a pungent, spicy flavor. Go easy at first until you are familiar with the correct dose for your preferred level of gingery flavor.
- Soup: Wake up your favorite winter soup with some slices of ginger. Add early in recipes for winter squash soups, creamy soups and all sorts of vegetable stews.
- Vegetable Stir-Fries: Ginger works well with almost every vegetable; toss minced ginger into your next stir-fry to elevate the flavor.
- Hot Ginger Tea: Pour boiling water over slices of ginger and let steep for a few minutes. Add honey and lemon to taste, or a shot of whiskey for a ginger hot toddy.
- Ginger Beer: Add a pinch of ground ginger to your next beer and voila! Beer drinkers in English taverns made this a popular drink during the 19th century. (You can also try our nearly non-alcoholic DIY Ginger Beer Recipe for all the carbonated goodness without the hangover.)
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