If you enjoy cooking with fresh ginger, or using it to make drinks like teas, you probably know that it can be tricky to peel. But do you actually have to peel it? And if so, what's the best and easiest way to do it?
What Is Ginger?
Fresh ginger is a vegetable made from the rootstalks, or rhizomes, of a flowering plant from the family Zingiberaceae. It has a pungent flavor derived from various volatile oils, some of which are present in its fresh form, some of which are produced when ginger is cooked, and some that only form when the ginger is dried.
When dried and ground into a powder, ginger is considered a spice. In its fresh form, however, it is a vegetable.
To Peel or Not to Peel?
Because it is a rhizome, which sends out shoots from individual nodes in various directions, fresh ginger root has a bulbous, irregular shape that can make peeling it difficult.
Now, this might come as something of a surprise to you, but you don't actually have to peel your ginger. It's not like garlic, whose papery skin is inedible. The skin on ginger is extremely thin, and it's wholly edible, and since you are inevitably going to be slicing it, chopping it, mincing it or grating it, there is no way you are going to be able to tell the difference between peeled or not peeled. Not in the flavor, not in the texture, not in any way whatsoever.
But if you do prefer to peel your ginger, there are a couple of ways to do it.
How to Peel Ginger
The best way to peel ginger is to use the edge of a spoon to scrape the skin away from the flesh. Using a spoon helps you get into the corners and crannies of the ginger root, with the added benefit that no way you can cut yourself with the edge of a spoon. You could also use the back edge of a butter knife instead of a spoon.
Now, whether you use a spoon or a butter knife, this technique can be a bit messy, and it's rather tedious as well. If you want to speed things up, you can also peel ginger using a sharp paring knife. With this method, you're simply slicing off the outer layers of the root. You'll cut off a bit more of the actual ginger using this technique, but it will be quicker and more tidy. And even if you don't get every last bit of skin off, remember, the skin is edible.
An added benefit to this method is that you can save the trimmings to make fresh ginger tea.
How to Slice Ginger
Once you have it peeled, usually your next step will be to slice the ginger across the node into thin coin-shaped slices. Note that slicing it this way, against the grain, as it were, means that these slices won't be filled with tough, fibrous strands, as they would if you were to slice it lengthwise.
Depending on your recipe, this might be all the prep your ginger needs. Or, you might have to go a step further, and julienne the ginger. To do this, simply slice those thin coins into little strips. You can even go beyond that and chop those strips crossways, producing a finely minced ginger.
And of course some recipes will have you bypass the knife altogether and simply grate the fresh ginger using a microplane. You can also purchase a little ceramic ginger grater, which uses a cluster of raised teeth to grate the ginger while leaving the fibrous part behind. If so, whether you choose to peel it beforehand or not is a matter of choice.
Fresh ginger doesn't keep for long. If you store it unwrapped in the fridge, it will soon start to shrivel, whereas if you try to wrap it or seal it in a plastic bag, it will soon turn moldy and then start to liquefy.
Fortunately, ginger keeps quite well in the freezer. You can wrap the whole root and freeze it, or you can cut it into sections and wrap and freeze them individually. You can peel it before freezing or not, as you prefer. Some cooks find that freezing ginger makes it easier to peel.
You can also freeze sliced ginger, minced ginger or even grated ginger. For the latter, simply grate your ginger and freeze it in ice cube trays, then when you're ready to use it, you have it already pre-portioned.