Knobbed and gnarled, cloaked in a dun-colored skin, fresh ginger’s nondescript exterior belies its succulent and aromatic pale-yellow flesh. Its exact origin is unclear, but ginger is believed to be native to India and China. Cultivated for millennia and used since antiquity, ginger is one of the most enduringly popular spices around the world. Marco Polo reported seeing vast ginger plantations in the 13th century in China, and there are records documenting its appearance and use in Europe as early as the 2nd century. In both fresh and dried forms, ginger has always been prized for its medicinal properties as well as its culinary versatility.
Ginger (or gingerroot) is not actually a root at all, but rather a fleshy rhizome, the underground stems of the ginger plant; they branch with thick, thumb-like protrusions, and indeed, the fresh roots look like a bit like hands once picked. Ginger is now commercially cultivated in nearly every tropical and subtropical country in the world, including Jamaica, Hawaii, Australia, Africa and Central America. Because of the global market, it is available year-round in the US.
When harvested 5 months after planting, it’s called young ginger (or spring ginger). Young ginger is characterized by very pale and thin skin that needs no peeling. It’s tender and juicy, with inconspicuous fibers, and boasts a milder flavor than mature ginger. Young ginger is rarely found in mainstream grocery stores, but it’s worth seeking out in Asian markets in the springtime. This is the crop that’s used in commercially prepared candied ginger and syrups.
Mature ginger is the most common form of ginger in the market, the one most people would recognize. It has a tough skin that must be peeled in order to reach the delectable flesh inside. Because mature ginger stays in the ground longer, it develops a hotter, spicier flavor.
Fresh ginger has a wonderful aroma in addition to its pungent piquancy and refreshing, zesty flavor. Its culinary uses are legendary, especially in Asian cuisines where its fragrance and fiery bite are at the foundation of most stir-fries and curries. Fresh ginger is nothing if not versatile — it can be grated, sliced, chopped or crushed, dried, pickled, candied or preserved. Ground ginger is an indispensable ingredient in Western baking for cakes, cookies and of course, gingerbread. Although ground ginger is not a suitable substitute for fresh ginger, especially in dishes that require high cooking temperatures, grated fresh ginger can replace the dried spice in baked goods.
In addition to its culinary usefulness, in some parts of the world ginger is one of the most widely consumed drugs, considered to have medicinal properties in both its fresh and dried forms. It has been estimated that in China alone, ginger is believed to be an ingredient in half of all herbal medicines. It has long been thought to allay nausea, motion sickness and migraine headaches, although definitive scientific evidence has yet to be found.
How to select and store ginger
When shopping for fresh (mature) ginger, choose plump "hands" (or roots) with smooth, hard skin that has a slight sheen. Avoid roots with soft, wrinkled skin or pieces that feel very light; these are signs that the ginger is old and dry. Select roots with the smallest number of knobs and branches, as they’re easiest to work with and involve the least amount of waste. If available, look for Hawaiian ginger, which has very thin skin and almost fiber-free flesh.
At home, store fresh, unpeeled ginger at room temperature in a cool location for up to 4-5 days. For keep it longer, wrap it in a paper towel and then refrigerate in an unsealed plastic bag for up to a month, or freeze it for up to 6 months. To use, just slice off the amount you need and return the rest to the freezer.
Sliced fresh ginger may also be placed in a jar, covered with dry sherry, rice wine or vinegar and sealed with a lid; you can store this mixture in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.
Tips for using ginger
Fresh ginger is easy to prepare. It needs to be peeled, for which a sharp paring knife or a vegetable peeler work well. Once shorn of its skin, ginger can be grated with a Microplane or other fine grater, thinly sliced, minced or coarsely chopped, or pounded into a paste with a mortar and pestle.
Why choose organic?
Choose organic whenever you can to help keep the residues of conventional agricultural pesticides and fertilizers out of your food. Organic produce is grown without toxic synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, using sustainable farming methods that protect the environment and help keep pesticides out of our soil, air, water and food supply. Organic food is the healthiest choice for people and the planet — and we think it tastes better, too!