From its whimsically knobby roots (commonly referred to as “hands”) to its powerfully peppery flavor, ginger is a jewel in the kitchen.
As a mighty superfood and delicious warming spice, it is a natural medicinal ingredient that may aid in battling inflammation, nausea, and other ailments. And it also has many culinary uses that render it one of the most versatile spices available, which includes its use in both cooking and baking (Think of wonderful, warm gingerbread or even a gluten-free equivalent!)
If I can make it to the marketplace in Chinatown early in the morning and haggle with the woman behind one of the stands to get a bunch for a buck or so a pound, I will stock up on a tote bag full of them.
But a simple question remains:
How do you handle these hands?
Keep reading to learn the best ways to choose, prep, and store one of Foodal’s favorite roots!
How to Choose the Best Ginger
OK, you got us. Ginger is technically a rhizome, which is really a stem, but it’s often referred to as a root since it grows underground. For our purposes, we’ll go with the common usage when the mood strikes, and occasionally use these interchangeably.
The next time you are shopping for some zesty rhizomes, there are certain sensory qualities you should be looking for in order to pick the best product.
Overall, you should look for pieces that are firm, plump, and dry. It will have rough, papery, brown skin, but should not have exhibit too many major defects on the surface like bruises or mold.
To get the most out of your purchase, find a piece that has a larger area of flesh without too many narrow, knobby fingers. It is more difficult to peel the skin from very skinny pieces, and you’ll end up with more in your dump bowl than for your recipe.
Remember to follow these guidelines while you’re shopping:
Don’t buy if:
- The skin looks wet and moldy
- The skin is significantly bruised, shriveled, and discolored
- The hand has too many small, narrow, knobby fingers
- It feels soft or mushy when you squeeze it
Definitely buy if:
- The skin is a solid brown color with minimal defects
- The skin looks dry and fresh
- The hand has large, plump pieces
- It feels firm when you squeeze it
How to Store at Room Temperature
With its thin, bark-like outer skin, ginger can withstand room-temperature storage far longer than many other fresh fruit or vegetable products. Room temperature storage is a good method if you plan to use it right away, or within a week.
Leave the rhizome as is with the skin on, and place it on a plate or in your fruit bowl on your countertop, away from direct sunlight. It will keep for about a week before it begins to soften and show signs of aging.
Once this happens, we recommend using refrigeration or keeping it in the freezer for more long-term storage. Keep reading below to learn about these methods.
Refrigerator Storage Tips
For optimal refrigerator storage, it is best to leave the whole piece intact and remove pieces as needed.
Store whole pieces in a resealable bag, being sure to squeeze out all of the extra air. It will keep in the fridge for well over a month.
Freeze Your Rhizome for the Long Term
For longer periods, ginger can be stored in the freezer. For optimal storage and convenience, we recommend washing, peeling, and cutting it into large segments about 1 or 2 inches long.
Place in an airtight freezer bag in a single layer – this will help to prevent the pieces from sticking together. Blotting the cut and peeled pieces dry before placing them in the bag will help to prevent ice crystals from forming on the outside. Ginger can be frozen for up to 6 months.
When you are ready to use it in a recipe, take out a chunk and let it thaw at room temperature on your cutting board before you slice it.
Frozen ginger can also be grated easily without needing to thaw it first. When you are ready to incorporate into a recipe, simply take a prepped segment out of the freezer and grate as much as you need for your recipe, using a microplane, cheese grater, or ginger grater.
I personally like using a fine microplane. This will finely shave the frozen piece, enabling you to literally dissolve it into a dish for the best distribution of flavor.
Storing in Alcohol – Worth It?
Freshly peeled ginger can also be stored by submerging it in alcohol, such as vodka or sherry, or in an acidic liquid like lemon or lime juice.
The high alcohol content and high acidity level helps to preserve the fresh root for a longer period of time.
I personally do not recommend this method, as the flavor of the liquid will infuse into the ginger, altering its taste and texture.
Unless you are making an infused liquor with the intention of extracting the ginger flavor (hello, happy hour cocktail idea!) I would stick to the other storage methods provided.
Once you slice into a fresh hand and the inner flesh is exposed, you can no longer store it at room temperature.
You can, however, prep the rest for freezer storage, or cover the exposed area tightly with plastic wrap to limit continued air exposure, and place it in a resealable bag in the refrigerator.
It is much easier to peel when young, preferably within a week after you buy it. The flesh will continue to soften as it ages, adhering to the skin and making it more difficult to peel off.
I just ran into this problem the other day, prepping for my stir-fry. I found a lone hand (whose date of purchase was questionable… forgetful me!) in the very back of the fridge and spent the next toilsome half hour trying to peel it.
Trust me. Peel it sooner rather than later.
The Best Tools for Peeling
Ask a group of people what their favorite tool is for peeling ginger, and I’m sure you’ll get a variety of answers:
The back of a chef’s knife, a vegetable peeler, a spoon, a small paring knife… the list goes on and on!
Each individual tool is great, but I think the best technique is to actually utilize a trio of tools to get the most effective cleaning accomplished: a chef’s knife, a vegetable peeler, and a spoon. These are the Three Musketeers of ginger prep.
For the initial cleaning, use a knife to cut off large pieces, remove dried-out ends, and slice away any small nubs that cannot be used.
For the pieces with a large area of skin, use a vegetable peeler.
For the smaller, tough spots that are too tiny for a vegetable peeler, use the tip of a spoon to scrape these often troublesome areas.
The Best Way to Prep the Whole Rhizome
The following method is best way to efficiently to peel a whole hand, to get the most yield with the least amount of stress:
1. Wash under water and pat dry.
2. With a knife, slice off the dried end pieces and any tiny protrusions that will be too small to use.
3. With a knife, divide the whole hand into pieces of roughly equal size, suited to your cooking purposes.
4. Peel each section.
5. Use as you wish!
And We’re Ready for Rhizome Recipes!
Now that you know all about how to shop for, prep, and store this soothingly spicy plant, have fun using it in a variety of recipes. To get you started, try our fresh papaya ginger smoothie for a creamy, refreshing beverage with a little bit of a kick.
Looking for something savory? Try our easy sausage fried rice with garlic and ginger!
We would love to know how you like to store and prepare this root. Do you have a favorite method of peeling that we didn’t mention? Post your comments below!
The staff at Foodal are not medical professionals and this article should not be construed as medical advice. Foodal and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet, or using supplements or manufactured or natural medications.
Photo credits: Shutterstock unless otherwise noted.
About Nikki Cervone
Nikki Cervone is a hungry foodie living in Pittsburgh. Nikki holds an AAS in baking/pastry from Westmoreland County Community College, a BA in Communications from Duquesne University, and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University. When she is not tearing through her city's best cheesesteaks, Nikki enjoys a healthy dose of yoga and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.