Ginger can be many things. It can be spicy, floral, citrusy—or all three at the same time. It can present its flavors mildly or be more intense. It can eaten on its own, made into candy, or paired with honey for a fragrant tea. It makes the base of beloved confections like gingersnap cookies, and is fundamental in cuisines throughout South Asia—from India to China, Vietnam to Japan—as well as in the Caribbean and all over the West. It also has a long history of being used for various medical purposes, said to help alleviate nausea and act as an anti-inflammatory.
So what exactly is ginger? And what are the best ways to store it? Here’s everything you need to know about this knobby ingredient and how to store it properly.
What is Ginger?
Many people call ginger a root, but it’s actually a rhizome—a subterranean plant stem that sends out shoots from things called nodes. The fact that it’s pulled from the earth serves to explain its gnarly appearance. It’s in the same family as other recognizably similar rhizomes turmeric and galangal.
What is Ginger?
Ginger is a rhizome, or a subterranean plant stem that sends out shoots from nodes. It's commonly used as a spice or as a natural remedy.
When you’re confronted with a heap of ginger at the supermarket or farmer’s market, there are only a few key things you need to look out for when picking an impeccable piece: taut, firm skin, no shriveled, dry looking, or fuzzy spots, and it should feel a bit heavy for its size.
You should also avoid buying smaller pieces of ginger as these are likely drier than larger, whole pieces of ginger.
How to Store Ginger Properly
From submerging hunks of peeled ginger in vodka to keep them fresh to literally planting some in a pot on your windowsill, there are lots of methods for storing fresh ginger, but not all of them are worth trying for yourself. The very best, most reliable ways of storing ginger are also (luckily for us) the simplest. Here are the four best methods for storing ginger:
- Whole, unpeeled, in the crisper drawer: If you use ginger in a lot of different ways for many different recipes—from fresh minced as a garnish for curries to thin slices for fresh ginger teas, this is your best choice for storing ginger. Place your whole, unpeeled piece of ginger into a plastic bag, press all the air out, seal it, and place it in your crisper drawer. This way, it will keep for about three weeks—just make sure to remove as much air as you can, each time you open the bag up and break a piece off.
- Whole, peeled, in the freezer: If you use ginger mostly for cooking, grating it into the base for sauces, soups, stews, or even for dressings or cocktails, this method is great for you. Peel your whole knob of ginger (more on that below!), wrap it up in a piece of plastic wrap or a plastic bag, and keep it in the freezer. When you need some, simply grab it, grate it finely with a microplane and it’s ready to use. This way, your ginger will keep just about indefinitely, as long as it doesn’t succumb to freezer burn—so keep it wrapped up tight!
- Puréed in the fridge or freezer: For those of you that use tons of ginger, all the time, and want to prep a lot of ginger to keep on hand for use at a moment’s notice, this is the storage method for you. Slice the ginger crosswise and add to a food processor. Blend with just a bit of water (add half a tablespoon at a time until the mixture is able to run on its own, you don’t want to add too much) until very smooth. You can also use a neutral oil instead of water if you’d like. Transfer the paste to an airtight jar to store in the fridge for up to one week or into a plastic bag (air removed and sealed) to freeze and store just about indefinitely. Freeze the bag flat so you can cut or break off small chunks of the paste as needed, or even freeze the paste in ice cube trays and transfer to a plastic bag for easy grab and go portions. They thaw quickly, so they can be added directly to pans, pots, mugs for tea, or blenders for smoothies.
- Whole, unpeeled, in the door of the fridge: This method isn’t widely touted around the internet, but is worthy of space here because it works. Similar to the first method, this is great for those of you who use ginger in a variety of different ways and want to keep your ginger whole for that versatility. Keep your whole, unpeeled pieces of ginger in the door of the fridge, cutting or breaking pieces off as needed. This way, your ginger should keep for about two to three weeks.
Tips for Prepping and Preparing Ginger
Ginger is a funny ingredient. It has a peel, but there’s debate as to whether or not it needs to be peeled. It’s also very fibrous, and has the tendency to be stringy if not sliced and prepped properly. Now that you know what your best options are for storing ginger properly, here are a few extra, ginger-centric tips so you can also prep and prepare it without a hitch.
Do I Have to Peel Ginger?
Technically, no. The tan skin surrounding the rhizome is edible, so it’s not necessary to peel ginger before using it. However, the peel can disrupt the texture of a dish, depending on what dish it is and how you process the ginger. If you’re planning on puréeing it or processing it into a paste, you don’t need to worry about peeling it because the skin will break down along with the flesh. If you’re slicing it for tea, it won’t be eaten, so also no problem to leave the peel on. If you’ll be julienning or mincing or grating the ginger, it might be worth your time to remove the skin to make it easier to process and nicer to eat.
To peel ginger, use a vegetable peeler to get most of the skin off, then use a regular old spoon to help you remove any extra skin stuck between the odd corners and nooks of the rhizome.
Why Is My Ginger Always So Stringy?
If you slice a piece of ginger in half lengthwise, you can easily see the tough fibers that run through it. If you slice your ginger parallel to these fibers, they stay intact and lead to a stringy texture, so it’s always key to slice ginger crosswise, “against the grain,” to shorten these fibers. In one piece of ginger, the fibers are likely to run in various directions in the different “fingers” or knobs, so make sure to double check that you’re slicing it crosswise.
My Ginger Has a Blue Tinge, Is It Bad?
Typically blue or green-hues in otherwise not blue or green-tinted produce is not a good sign, but for ginger, it’s neither good or bad. Some varietals of ginger contain natural plant colorants that give them a blue-gray tinges throughout the flesh which is neither harmful or impactful in terms of flavor. There are also many cases of ginger taking on similar blue-gray hues after being stored in cold temperatures for long periods of time. Again, this is not harmful, not a sign of the ginger being “off,” and has little effect on flavor.
When ginger has gone bad, you’ll know by sight or feel. If the ginger has any mold, this is your most obvious sign that it’s time to get rid of that piece. If the firm rhizome starts to feel soft or squishy, throw it out. It’s as simple as that.