Getting to Know Ginger, the Wonder Spice

Ginger is one of the most popular spices in the world—and it always has been. It’s not hard to see why, with its host of culinary applications and even medicinal uses. That’s right—it’s good for you AND it tastes good in… well, almost everything. 

I’ve made my fair share of pumpkin pie, carrot cake, gingerbread cookies, and ginger snaps over the years—all of which called for dry ground ginger. And I just LOVE diced crystalized ginger in my biscotti. Despite my lifelong love for the stuff, I have to admit that I never realized how truly special ginger is until I took a trip to India.

Going to India: A Love Story

Some very dear friends of mine were about to get engaged—and he wanted to propose in Agra, India. A destination for romance if I do say so myself! Well, I was invited, and lucky for me, Indian cooking classes were on the itinerary. One of the first things we learned was how to make a fresh ginger-garlic paste. And that is when I met fresh ginger (and fell head over heels in love).

I was a little intimidated at the thought of peeling it at first, with its knobby shape and all. I was delighted to learn how easy it is to just scrape the peel off with the edge of a spoon. Soon I was off and running, whipping up real Indian dishes with that delicious ginger and garlic paste. When we got home, it didn't take me long to start experimenting with fresh ginger in my baking. 

What does fresh ginger taste like? And where does ginger come from, anyway?

Ginger has a uniquely bold kick, with notes of lemon, pepper and clove. This fibrous little root is a member of the Zingiberaceae family. Its spicy siblings are tumeric and cardamon. Used for centuries across all of Asia, ginger eventually made its way to Europe via the Silk Road. In addition to spicing up your recipes, ginger is a good source of antioxidants, a safe way to manage nausea, and has been known to help with motion sickness.

Using Fresh Ginger at Home

Today, ginger is everywhere: Dried, powdered, minced, candied, crystalized, and even in liqueur form. Koval’s very special ginger liqueur is my absolute favorite

Each form of ginger has its own unique uses. For example, ground ginger is milder and less astringent than fresh because the fresh root still contains the essential oils that give it that extra kick.  


Ginger peach
Ginger bourbon

Here’s an example of crystallized ginger. It can be used as a garnish, seen here in my Woodford Reserve Bourbon Ginger Pear Cocktail.

I use fresh ginger for my Woodford Reserve Bourbon Ginger Pear Cocktail.

When I make my triple ginger cakes (AKA, A Ginger Cake to Remember), I use fresh, crystalized, and ginger liqueur.  I’m telling you, these cakes are SO good and SO beautiful and they pack an absolutely delicious ginger punch. Scroll down to learn more & get the recipe!

If you decide to make a batch, keep these spicy little tips in your back pocket—you might need them next time you buy a fresh ginger root!

  • If you don’t have crystallized ginger, you can substitute ground ginger. A tablespoon of crystalized ginger can be substituted with ¼ teaspoon of dry ground ginger.  

  • After grating fresh ginger, you might have some water/juice left over. Don’t pitch it! It goes great in a hot cup of tea. If there’s a lot of juice, pour it into an ice cube tray and use it next time you make lemonade or smoothie.

  • There are lots of other spices that complement the bright, warming flavor of ginger: Allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, and nutmeg, just to name a few. Experiment with all of them!

How to Store Fresh Ginger

Fresh ginger freezes beautifully. Try keeping some in the freezer so you can pull it out whenever you need it for a recipe. No need to thaw it first, just grate as much as you need. Ginger root can be stored in the refrigerator, too—preferably with the peel on, as this will maximize the storage time. Just pop it in a freezer bag and tuck it in your crisper drawer. 

How to Pick the Perfect Ginger Root


When I was at the spice market in India, I learned how to pick the out best ginger root. Now you can, too! The root should be firm and smooth. A lot of wrinkles indicate that the root is starting to deteriorate. The ends of a good ginger root will be clean and free of mold. Look for a young ginger root, since they tend to be less woody and more tender. The younger ones taste better, too! 


A Ginger Cake to Remember: a Delectable Triple Ginger Cake Recipe with Koval’s Ginger Liqueur

Now that you know all about ginger, let’s talk about my triple ginger cake recipe. I recently partnered up with Peoria Magazine and Koval to put this recipe together for all of you and I couldn’t be more delighted. These cakes are tender, light, and vivid in flavor. 

Learn more about my near-and-dear Peoria Magazine below. And Koval, too! Did you know they were the first distillery in Chicago when prohibition ended? Now that’s some real history. Don’t forget to find me on social media and let me know what you think! 


November 12, 2022 — Mary DiSomma