Ginger has been prized for its pungent, spicy-sweet aroma and flavor for millennia. Its versatility allows it to effortlessly complement countless recipes, from savory stir-fries and curries to sweet cookies, cakes, and so much more.
What makes it truly remarkable is that it’s just as useful outside of the kitchen as it is in it. In this “101,” we’re going to learn everything there is to know about this spicy, zesty ingredient, so you can become a ginger expert.
Quick facts about ginger
When you think of ginger in its natural, unprocessed form, you most likely visualize a lumpy, beige root with light yellow flesh. As it turns out, the ginger we eat is not a root at all, but the rhizome of a tropical plant known as Zingiber officinale.
A rhizome is a thick stem that grows horizontally underground, continually producing roots and shoots to help the plant grow. Other popular, edible rhizomes include ginger’s close cousin, turmeric, and everyone’s favorite, potatoes.
Unlike other types of ginger plants, which have vibrant, showy flowers that make them a popular choice for gardens and landscapes, Zingiber officinale is a much more humble plant, growing about 2 to 3 three feet tall on average, with bamboo-like foliage and simple, yellow flowers.
Historians believe that ginger was used as a spice and a natural remedy for common ailments long before recorded history, dating back 5,000 years. (1)
While it no longer grows in the wild after so many thousands of years of human intervention, it likely originated in the warm, tropical forests of southeastern Asia. It was particularly popular in ancient China and India.
Around 2,000 years ago, ginger made its way from India to ancient Rome via trade routes. The spice was nearly wiped out along with the Roman empire, but was “rediscovered” in Europe during the Victorian era. In fact, Queen Elizabeth I was quite fond of ginger and is credited with creating gingerbread men. (Who’d’ve guessed?) (2)
Ginger eventually made its way into the New World in the 16th century via Spanish conquistadors. It thrived in the warm, humid climate of the Caribbean and remains one of Jamaica’s top exports.
This beloved spice is now grown all over the world, but most of it is exported from China, as you can see below.
Ginger nutrition facts
Because ginger’s flavor is so potent, you’ll generally need only a small amount of it in any given recipe, so it does not add a significant amount of calories to your diet. It’s also essentially fat-free, sugar-free, and sodium-free, making it a healthy way to add flavor to your food or beverages.
While generally lacking in vitamins in small quantities, ginger is packed full of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, which make this humble little rhizome something of a superfood. Read on to see what these natural compounds can do for your health!
Health benefits of ginger
Ginger has been coveted as a natural medicine for thousands of years. Here’s what you might expect if you regularly incorporate ginger into diet:
Studies indicate that ginger can improve your blood circulation, which is vital to making sure your blood effectively transports oxygen and nutrients to your organs and muscles. (3)
Lower blood pressure
This study concluded that ginger effectively lowered blood pressure with its blood-thinning properties. (4)
Natural nausea treatment
Perhaps the most popular medicinal use for ginger is treating nausea. Whether you’re suffering from indigestion, motion sickness, or even morning sickness, you can count on ginger to soothe your upset stomach. (5)
In addition to treating nausea, ginger may also be useful in reducing inflammation and swelling caused by arthritis.
While the studies done on the herb’s effectiveness in treating the symptoms of arthritis have produced some conflicting and even contradictory results, it’s certainly worth trying if you’re seeking a non-pharmaceutical alternative to treat arthritic pain or haven’t found any relief from glucosamine.
Less severe PMS symptoms
If you suffer from painful menstrual cramps or heavy bleeding during your period, ginger can be a powerful, natural remedy. One study even found that ginger capsules provided as much pain relief for cramps as ibuprofen while another found that ginger significantly reduced heavy menstrual bleeding. (6, 7)
Ginger’s naturally anti-inflammatory compounds may also be useful in treating the redness and swelling brought on by acne. Official studies on the effectiveness of treating acne with ginger are still fairly limited, but there has been some evidence that indicates it may be a useful treatment. (8)
Additionally, many natural health and beauty enthusiasts swear by ginger for clear, healthy skin. If you’re struggling with acne and you’ve tried every face wash and spot treatment there is, it may be time to give ginger a try.
Must watch: YouTube personality, The Fairly Local Vegan, struggled with acne for over 15 years before discovering the healing properties of ginger — and now her skin looks amazing! Check out her video below.
Downsides to using ginger
While ginger is generally considered safe for most people, you’ll want to limit your intake of ginger if you’re on certain medications, as you may experience adverse interactions.
WebMD advises that you avoid taking ginger along with any medications that slow blood clotting. This includes common painkillers like ibuprofen and aspirin. You should also exercise caution if you’re taking medication for diabetes or high blood pressure. Ginger may lower blood sugar and blood pressure, resulting in either of these becoming too low when ginger and those types of medications are combined. (9)
Allergies to ginger are uncommon, but not unheard of. You may be allergic to ginger if consuming it or applying it topically causes uncomfortable itching of the mouth or skin. Additionally, if you’re already dealing with heartburn or acid reflux, you may find that consuming a lot of ginger can worsen the symptoms of those conditions.
If you have any of these reactions when consuming or using ginger, it’s probably best to strictly limit your consumption of ginger, or avoid it altogether.
Ways to consume ginger
In the thousands of years that ginger has been used, it’s taken several different forms. You can find it as a fresh rhizome, dried and ground into a powder, pink and pickled, candied, or blended into a paste.
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to cooking with ginger, but understanding what each type of ginger has to offer can make it easier to successfully incorporate ginger into your favorite dishes. Without further ado, let’s break down ginger’s different forms!
When it comes to flavor, it’s hard to beat fresh ginger. It has a bright, zesty taste, in addition to the aromatic spiciness for which ginger is known and loved. If you’re looking to make a dish as flavorful and authentic as possible, fresh ginger is your best option.
When cooking with fresh ginger, simply cut off a piece of the rhizome, wash it, and peel off the tan, papery skin.
You’ll want to chop it as finely as possible, or throw it in a food processor, as biting into a big chunk of ginger is usually not the most pleasant experience — unless it happens to be candied ginger (more on that in a bit).
Ginger paste offers a great combination of convenience and flavor, making it the perfect addition to marinades, dressings, curry, and anything else that needs a touch of ginger.
You can even use it in desserts. To substitute fresh ginger with paste, use about 1 teaspoon of paste per 1 inch segment of minced ginger.
Ground ginger is used most commonly in baked goods, like gingerbread and other spiced sweets, but it can also work as a substitute for fresh ginger in savory recipes if you’re in a pinch.
Like most dried herbs and spices, you can use far less powdered ginger than you would fresh: a mere ¼ teaspoon of ground ginger will replace a tablespoon of fresh ginger in most recipes.
Keep in mind, though, that ground ginger doesn’t have quite as much flavor as its fresher counterparts.
Pickled ginger, also known by its Japanese name, gari, is recognized by most as the bright pink stuff that’s served alongside wasabi when you order sushi.
This pickled delicacy, made from young, tender ginger, traditionally serves as a palate cleanser, but its bright, tangy taste begs for culinary experimentation.
Ginger candy and candied ginger
If you love sweets with a bit of heat, you’ll love these treats (sorry, I couldn’t resist the rhyme!).
Candied ginger is made by crystallizing dried ginger with sugar. It’s sweet, spicy, slightly chewy, and irresistable. You can buy it by the bag (but try not to eat it all in one sitting).
Ginger candy is more candy than ginger, but it still has the spice’s signature kick. Try some for yourself, like these sweet, chewy Gin Gins.
Of course, both of these treats are quite high in sugar, so they should be eaten sparingly!
There are few dishes that can’t be made more delicious with the addition of ginger. Below are just a few tasty ginger recipes to try.
Thai Ginger and Garlic Noodle Bowl
If you love Thai food (and who doesn’t?), you’ll definitely want to try this simple yet flavorful Thai ginger and garlic noodle bowl from vanillaandbean.com.
It combines crisp, colorful veggies, a light and savory sauce with just the right amounts of sweetness and spice, and of course, plenty of fresh ginger and garlic.
Nasi Goreng with Ginger Tofu
For tofu lovers, try this vegan Nasi Goreng, featured on our list of 17 Tasty Tofu Recipes. This vegan spin on a classic Indonesian dish stars ginger tofu, chilies, garlic, lime, and all kinds of plant-based goodness.
Mixed Bean Salad with Pickled Ginger
As I mentioned, pickled ginger can be more than just a palate cleanser. Try adding it in a salad, like this Mixed Bean Salad with Pickled Ginger from the New York Times.
The spice, acidity, and subtle sweetness of tender, pickled ginger gives a fresh spin to the plain three-bean salad we all know.
Ginger Turmeric Vanilla Cookies
If you want to make a dessert that is as unique as it is delicious, why not try some Ginger Turmeric Vanilla Cookies, mentioned on our list of 27 Vegan Cookie Recipes? Spicy ginger and vanilla cashew cream combine for a truly decadent experience.
For a holiday classic, you can whip up a batch of good ol’ fashioned vegan gingerbread men. Try this recipe from Loving It Vegan, and let the ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and molasses transport your taste buds to your childhood.
If you want to convert a die-hard dairy lover, make them this amazing gingerbread cheesecake from One Green Planet. I mean, it has a gingerbread crust and a rich, creamy filling with just the perfect balance of sweetness and warm spice. What more could you want?
Mango Ginger Kale Green Smoothie
If you’re reluctant to eat your greens, why not drink them in this Mango Ginger Kale Green Smoothie from Minimalist Baker? It combines kale, peaches, mangoes, fresh ginger, and lemon juice for a refreshing, perfectly balanced smoothie.
Super simple to whip up in a Ninja Bullet blender.
Fresh Ginger Moscow Mule
If you’re looking for the perfect happy hour beverage, look no further than this Fresh Ginger Moscow Mule from pickledplum.com. It uses fresh ginger muddled with basil, rather than mint, for a unique take on this classic cocktail.
These ginger-centric recipes are really just the tip of the iceberg. If you have a favorite recipe that stars this delicious spice, be sure to share it in the comments!
Alternatives to ginger
If you find that ginger causes unpleasant reactions, such as an itchy mouth or heartburn, but you love its flavor, there are a few alternatives to try.
In baking, cinnamon and cloves are commonly used alongside ginger because they all have similarly warm, spicy flavor profiles. Either or both of these make fine substitutes for ginger.
Allspice, also known as Jamaican pepper, is a great ginger alternative that can be used in sweet and savory dishes. If you’re not a fan of allspice, try mace. (That’s right — it can be used for something other than an eye-burning spray!)
This ingredient has a more subtle spice and sweetness than allspice, while still adding lots of flavor and pairing well with baked goods and some savory dishes.
Home remedies using ginger
Ginger is a powerhouse of medicinal benefits and has been used for centuries across many cultures. Here we dive into just a few home remedies using ginger:
Soothing ginger tea for upset stomach
If you’re suffering from nausea, a cup of strong, hot ginger tea may be exactly what you need. You can buy bags of ginger tea, but tea bags can’t beat the healing powers and potent flavor of homemade ginger tea.
To brew your own stomach-settling tea, thinly slice a 2-inch segment of peeled ginger, boil the slices in about 3 cups of water, then let the mixture simmer for about 20 minutes. It’ll be quite intense, so feel free to add a bit of agave or raw sugar to counteract the spiciness.
Pain relief for toothaches
If you’re suffering from a painful toothache, ginger may be able to provide some short-term relief.
Livestrong suggests chewing on a small piece of washed and peeled ginger root until the worst of the pain subsides. Granted, this is no substitute for a trip to the dentist, but it can help keep you comfortable until you make an appointment. (10)
Natural cold remedy
The simple recipe for ginger tea above can be altered to make it more effective in combating cold symptoms. Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and a vegan sweetener of your choice to boost your immune system with vitamin C and help suppress an irritating cough.
Skin-clearing ginger face mask
Ginger tea may be helpful in clearing skin, but if you want faster results, you can try using a DIY ginger face mask to combat the redness and swelling caused by stubborn acne breakouts. Try this three-ingredient mask for clearer, brighter skin:
(Of course, if you have any adverse reactions, stop using it immediately!)
If you want to take advantage of ginger’s amazing health benefits, but don’t have the time (or bladder capacity) to drink a gallon of ginger tea every day, you can try ginger-based supplements, such as these Pure Synergy SuperPure Ginger Extract capsules.
Just one 25 mg capsule harnesses the healing power of 425 mg of ginger. Try it to reduce inflammation or ease nausea.
(Please consult your physician before adding any supplements to your diet, especially if you are on any prescription medications.)
Ginger buying tips
Fresh ginger is readily found in most grocery stores, particularly in the “ethnic” or Asian section of the produce aisle. You may also try your luck at your local farmers’ market, where you’ll be guaranteed the freshest ginger.
When buying ginger, make sure its skin is thin and taut. Thick, wrinkled, or darkened skin usually indicate that the ginger is past its prime. It also shouldn’t have any soft or wet spots whatsoever.
Fresh, young ginger should be plump, firm, and fragrant. If your ginger feels slightly rubbery when you squeeze it or try to snap off a small piece, like a carrot that’s been left in the fridge for a few months too many, it’s no longer fresh.
To extend the life of fresh ginger, keep it in an airtight plastic bag in the crisper drawer of your fridge, making sure to blot off excess moisture on any part of the rhizome that has been cut or peeled.
If you’re trying to reduce your plastic usage (aren’t we all?), these neat biodegradable sandwich bags offer an eco-friendly alternative to conventional plastic baggies. Once your ginger root becomes soft and moist, it’s time to toss it and replace it.
If you’re using ginger paste, be sure to keep the jar tightly sealed and refrigerated after opening it. With proper refrigeration, your paste should keep for several months.
Ground ginger is the easiest type to store — simply keep it in a cool, dark pantry, and it should last approximately three years before it needs to be replaced. While it won’t necessarily go “bad,” it will lose more flavor and aroma the longer it’s stored, especially if the bottle is left open for extended periods of time.
Can you grow ginger at home?
If you’re wondering how you can grow an endless supply of this superfood in your own home or garden, you’ve come to the right place!
Ginger used for culinary purposes has been cultivated by humans for so long that the plants are usually sterile, meaning that they rarely flower and produce seeds (not unlike conventionally grown bananas). Instead of being grown from seeds, ginger can be grown from the rhizome itself. Here’s a basic breakdown of how to get started. (11)
First, you’ll need a plump, healthy piece of fresh ginger. You’ll want to opt for organic ginger, as conventionally grown ginger has been treated to prevent it from sprouting. You’ll also want to make sure that your ginger has several “fingers,” or nodes, as these are where the sprouts will (hopefully) emerge.
Once you’ve found your perfect rhizome, cut off the nodes and encourage them to sprout by keeping them in a makeshift terrarium. Good Housekeeping offers some great tips on how to make one. Alternatively, you can plant the whole rhizome directly. (12)
Sprouting your nodes may take up to 8 weeks. Once they’ve produced healthy shoots, you can get to planting. If you live in a relatively cold climate, you’ll want to plant your ginger indoors in a pot with rich potting soil.
Keep in mind that even a small node has the potential to grow into a large rhizome, so make sure the pot is big enough! In warmer climates, you can plant your sprouted nodes directly outside in loose, nutrient-dense soil, in a well-shaded area.
You will have to wait several months for your ginger to mature, but it will be worth the wait! Here’s a more in-depth visual guide to planting and harvesting your very own ginger.
In conclusion…you need ginger in your life!
It’s clear by now that the ancient spice known as ginger is nothing less than a superfood. It adds a delicious flavor to your favorite sweets and savory dishes and, outside of the kitchen, it can help settle your stomach, reduce inflammation, and do about a thousand other things.
Now that you know what it is, where it’s from, and how to use and grow it, it’s time to get creative! Tell me your favorite ways to use ginger down below.
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About The Author:
Cristina is a writer, doggy daycare attendant, and vegan of nearly a decade. She earned a B.A. in Comparative Literature with a minor in gender studies from University of California, Irvine. As an undergrad, she served as president of the university’s animal rights club and conducted and presented research on the intersections of feminism and veganism.
When she’s not writing or taking care of dogs, she enjoys reading everything from autobiographies to YA fantasy novels, tending to her houseplants, cooking, and drawing. She lives in Southern California with her boyfriend and their dog.
- Ann M. Bode and Zigang Dong | The Amazing and Mighty Ginger | https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92775/
- Olivia B. Waxman | The Surprising Reasons Why Gingerbread Men Became a Holiday Classic | https://time.com/4602913/gingerbread-men-history/
- Jalal Bayati Zadeh and Nasroallah Moradi Kor | Physiological and pharmaceutical effects of Ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe) as a valuable medicinal plant | https://www.imedpub.com/articles/physiological-and-pharmaceutical-effects-of-ginger-zingiber-officinale-roscoeas-a-valuable-medicinal-plant.pdf
- L. Ojulari, O. Olatubosun, and B. Owoyele | The Effect of Zingiber Officinale (Ginger) Extract on Blood Pressure and Heart Rate in Healthy Humans | https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/The-Effect-of-Zingiber-Officinale-%28Ginger%29-Extract-Ojulari-Olatubosun/da6289e2f779508133733623b63c5e89cb068324?p2df
- Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD | Is Ginger a Safe and Effective Treatment for Nausea? | https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/ginger-for-nausea
- Giti Ozgoli, Marjan Goli, and Fariborz Moattar | Comparison of Effects of Ginger, Mefenamic Acid, and Ibuprofen on Pain in Women with Primary Dysmenorrhea | https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/acm.2008.0311
- Farzaneh Kashefi, Marjan Khajehei, Mohammad Alavinia, Ebrahim Golmakani, Javad Asili | Effect of ginger (Zingiber officinale) on heavy menstrual bleeding: a placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial | https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25298352/
- Eric Yarnell, Kathy Abascal | Herbal Medicine for Acne Vulgaris | https://www.researchgate.net/publication/275200305_Herbal_Medicine_for_Acne_Vulgaris
- WebMD | Ginger | https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-961/ginger
- Jonae Fredericks | How to Use Ginger Root for a Toothache | https://www.leaf.tv/5821690/how-to-use-ginger-root-for-a-toothache/
- CABI | Zingiber officinale (ginger) | https://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/57537
- Sharon Tregaskis | The Easiest Way to Grow Ginger at Home | https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/gardening/a20705827/how-to-grow-ginger/