Turn Up (or Down) the Heat to Get More Flavor Out of Ginger

published Feb 4, 2016
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(Image credit: Gayvoronskaya_Yana)

I’ve been spending a lot of time with ginger lately. Between adding it to stir-fries or using it to make tea, I’ve learned a lot about manipulating its flavor level to get the desired outcome. I’ve learned when and how to use it — and as a result, my hand of ginger is seeing a new life in the kitchen.

There are many ways to manipulate the flavor of ginger. How it’s cut impacts the amount of oil released, which affects the amount of ginger flavor you can harness. But beyond the cut, the presence or absence of heat impacts the type of flavor ginger imparts.

Raw Ginger = Fresh and Fiery

Raw ginger contains a chemical compound known as gingerol. It’s responsible for the sweet, throaty burn you get when you drink fresh ginger beer or fizzy kombucha, or pop a bit of fresh ginger in your mouth. Gingerol is closely related to capsaicin, the compound that gives chiles their spiciness — hence the similar burn. This close relation is a clue as how to best use fresh ginger to your advantage. Think of it like a chile pepper, adding it to dishes that need a serious kick. If you want to capitalize on ginger’s burn, use it fresh and mince it finely.

Fresh and Fiery Ginger Recipes

Ginger + Heat = Mellow and Sweet

Once ginger hits the heat, gingerol does a little dance and changes into zingerone. Zingerone ditches the affiliation to chile peppers and decides to take a page from vanilla’s book, giving cooked ginger a sweeter, highly aromatic quality. The distinctive sweet gingery scent of gingerbread, gingersnaps, and even ginger tea is all thanks to zingerone.

The bite of ginger is still present after you cook it, but it’s nowhere near as potent as raw ginger. To further tame the burn of cooked ginger, opt for larger cuts. Cut the ginger into coins to perfume a dish with a light ginger flavor with little-to-no burn.

Sweet and Mellow Ginger Recipes

Like It Really, Really Hot? Dried Ginger Is for You

Love the flavor of raw ginger but want to take it to the next level of flavor and heat? Dried ginger is just the ticket. Gingerol undergoes another change during the dehydration process, transforming into the compound shogaol. This causes the spice level to double. So if you really enjoy the burn of fresh ginger and want even more, dehydrate your ginger and mince it or even grind it for an extremely potent and powerful flavoring. A pinch of that in a chili would really bring the heat.