Ginger (zingiber officinale) is grown for its edible rhizome that imparts a spicy flavor. It’s commonly used in cooking both sweet and savory recipes. From simple ginger tea to gingersnap cookies and marinades, it’s a must have in your spice cabinet.
Learning about spices for your recipes? Be sure to check out the Spice Guide!
Ginger is the key ingredient in ginger ale and ginger beer, and of course, what would gingersnaps be without its distinctive flavor? The somewhat spicy flavor of this fleshy spice is suitable for both sweet and savory dishes, and makes regular appearances in Thai recipes and many other Asian-inspired recipes.
It’s often used for medicinal purposes, to ease common ailments like motion sickness, upset stomach, and morning sickness in pregnant women. Another of the health benefits of ginger is that it can be used as a digestive aid and its anti-inflammatory properties. Herbal medicine isn’t my forte, but it’s worth mentioning that ginger has plenty of health benefits!
In its natural form, the root is light brown and somewhat knobby. But this spice is available as dry powdered ginger as well.
Both are viable options for use in your cooking, and one may be more convenient or more readily available than the other, depending on your household and location. There are slight differences in flavor and texture between the different forms, so it’s worth knowing what those are if you plan to use either of them in recipes.
Here’s what you need to know about ginger powder vs. ginger root, so that you can choose the form that works best in baked goods and other recipes.
What is Ginger Root?
These are the underground stems, or rhizomes, just as they are harvested. (Well, it’s washed!) Look for it in the produce section of the grocery store. Good quality rhizomes are plump and smooth. If you can only find shriveled ginger root, give it a pass.
The flavor of fresh ginger is more complex than its dry form.
To use fresh ginger root, use a microplane to grate the soft flesh or a knife to finely dice it. Ginger in its fresh form tends to be a bit fibrous, so if you don’t chop it small at this stage, you’ll end up with little ginger “hairs” in your food. And that’s not pleasant for anyone!
Preparing the Fresh Roots
The peels of this rhizome are edible, but recipes often call for its removal. The easiest way to do this is to use a spoon to scrape away the papery tan peel. Any remaining dry, knobby parts can be trimmed off with a knife.
The flesh of the root can be a bit hairy. Cutting it thinly across the grain into small pieces can eliminate unfortunate lengths of “hair” in a recipe. Another option is to use a microplane or small grater to process it.
When a recipe calls for ginger juice, finely grate the fresh root, then press it through a sieve or do as I do, and simply squeeze it tightly in a fist, allowing the juice to escape.
Keeping ginger root on hand for use is easy. Place the root in an airtight container (I like to use a glass jar) and refrigerate it or keep it at room temperature. In either case, in should stay fresh for several weeks.
You can also freeze the rhizomes in a freezer safe container. It will last for months this way and as a bonus, frozen ginger is even easier to grate than fresh.
What is Dry Ginger Powder?
Just as you’d suspect, the powder is dried ginger root that’s been ground to a fine powder that’s convenient and easy to use. It can also be easier to keep on hand than the fresh version because it has a long shelf life.
The flavor of ground ginger powder mimics that of the fresh version, but it does lose complexity in the processing. Still, it’s a great addition to dessert recipes like gingerbread and pumpkin pie, so keep some on your spice rack!
Dried ginger is more concentrated than fresh. Using equivalents from Better Homes and Gardens, one teaspoon of ground ginger can be replaced with four tablespoons of the fresh root. Conversely, if a recipe calls for one tablespoon of fresh ginger, use 1/4 teaspoon of ground.
Now, I’m not one to quibble with BH&G, but that seems like a big stretch. I’d likely alter that a big (as one does) and use two tablespoons fresh for one teaspoon of dry, and taste it along the way before going all in.
Using this Spice
The somewhat spicy flavor of ginger is suitable for both sweet and savory dishes as seen in the recipes below. One of these is destined to become another of your favorite recipes!