Flavor Fest


(Zingiber officinale)


What comes to mind when you consider ginger?

As a flavor, ginger is encountered in many different foods and traditions. Can you think of any?

  • Indian and other Asian foods often use ginger
  • Sushi will have pickled ginger served on the side
  • Gingersnaps and gingerbread use dried ginger
  • Ginger ale, anyone?

Ginger’s flavor is used in sweet and savory dishes alike, all around the world. Just about everyone can think of at least one thing they’ve tasted with ginger in it, even if they’re unsure how exactly ginger tastes.

Where does this flavor come from? 

All About Ginger

The spice of ginger comes from the “rhizome” of the plant. While sometimes described as the root, ginger rhizomes are actually underground stems. They are considered “fleshy” rhizomes because they store food and water for the plant. Between segments of the rhizome, buds (or “nodes”) will form and grow into the upright stem and leaves. (Can you find the node in this picture of the ginger rhizome? It’s the bright yellow-ish tip with a red point that’s seen near the bottom of the photo.)

Ginger originated in Asian countries, thousands of years ago. It is not actually found in the wild, though! Today, India produces the most ginger of any country.

Ginger has been used as a spice for thousands of years. It was one of the spices that traveled the world during ancient spice trades.

Ginger leaves and shoots are also used in cooking. It really is a tasty and useful plant!

The ginger plant is classified in a family with some other interesting spices: turmeric, galangal and cardamom.


Growing Ginger

Ginger is often grown from sections of its root system, as buds form and sprout from the rhizome.

While some may disagree, I have found ginger to be fairly easy to start growing, and it is a beautiful, bright green plant. I have even had a ginger plant flower, producing a unique, beautiful blossom. 

Ginger is a perennial hardy to zones 9-12, and can be grown outside in those areas.

For colder parts of the world, ginger should spend winter months indoors, protected from the cold, and it is easiest to grow in a large planter, as long as it has room for the root rhizomes to grow and spread underneath the soil.




Starting Ginger in a Planter

When I have started ginger plants, it was actually because the segments sitting on my kitchen counter (waiting for a recipe) started to sprout!

As an experiment, I decided one day to bury the sprouting ginger in some potting soil in a large planter. I waited a few weeks, and suddenly those sprouts popped up above the soil’s surface. As they grew taller, the leaves began to unfurl and grow.

See the ginger sprout growing up from the planter? This started out as a root segment sitting on the kitchen counter, too!

How about you?

If you want to start growing ginger in a similar way, make sure you start out with organic ginger, as this is least likely to have been treated with chemicals. You can often find ginger root segments at the grocery store, and they’re not very expensive. There are also places ginger can be ordered online, fresh and ready to plant.

If you want to use some of the ginger in a recipe, enjoy! 

Next, simply fill a large planter about two-thirds full of organic potting soil, lay the ginger roots on the surface, and cover them with about an inch of dirt.

Place the planter on a tray, and water thoroughly. Continue to water weekly. Now be patient; the rhizomes may take some time to sprout, especially if you started in the fall or winter. It will be well worth the wait, though, when those first shoots pop up and start to grow.



Let’s look around the house.

Where do you find ginger hiding? I have definitely found some around here! Take a look below…



In the spice cupboard?

Ginger spice is used in baking sweets like ginger snaps and gingerbread.


In the tea drawer?

Ginger tea is a warming, soothing drink for any time of day.


In the pantry?

You might just find some ginger gum, candy or “mints” hiding.



Ginger ale and other ginger-based sodas are one of its most well-known uses. Ginger may also be used to flavor carbonated water or juices. One of my favorite combinations? Apple-ginger-lemon juice.







Anywhere else?

Ginger might be found in essential oils, condiments, candies, shampoos, lotions and more. 

Using, Collecting and Storing Ginger

Fresh ginger:

Can be used to make your own ginger-based sodas

Add fresh to cooking

Process through a juicer and mix with apple juice or lemonade

Dried ginger:

Spice for baking (ginger snaps, gingerbread)



Ginger leaves:

Can be used raw in salads or as a garnish, or cooked into side dishes


Fresh ginger is available at many grocery stores, or you can have your own home-grown source (as described above).

Ginger leaves can be collected right off of the fresh plant as needed.

When you dig up ginger roots, brush off all the dirt you can, and then wash gently with water, to get off all the dirt you can. Ginger can then be carefully peeled using the edge of a spoon (look at the photo above).

Ginger is also easy to grate to add to recipes, but again, always have an adult help you with any sharp kitchen utensils.

Ginger lasts for at least a few weeks sitting in a dry spot on the counter, or possibly longer in the refrigerator.

At the peak of season, ginger may flower. At the end of season, leaves dry up and die back to the ground, while the underground rhizome lives on. Just wait for spring, though, and new shoots should appear!


Wait! What happened to my ginger?

Don’t be alarmed or surprised when your ginger leaves start looking not-so-healthy in the fall. If you have managed to keep them green and happy all summer, and you’ve brought them indoors before the frosty weather hits, you have no reason to worry.

Every fall, ginger stems and leaves turn brown and die back. It can be a very sudden change, too. When your ginger does this, you can just cut off the dead leaves at the soil’s surface. Then we are back to practicing patience. When spring returns, so will your ginger sprouts, with a fresh new year’s lush stems and leaves. In the meantime, the plant is continuing to focus on its roots.


FUn Fact 1:

Studies show that ginger works wonderfully at helping an upset tummy feel better! This has made ginger candies, sodas and mints quite popular. Consider this if you tend to get carsick on family road trips!

FUN Fact 2:

The “starter” that cooks use to make homemade ginger soda is called a “ginger bug”! Doesn’t that just sound cute?


Want to taste some ginger?

If you haven’t tried it before, start out with a very tiny amount, at the tip of your tongue. Or try a sip of some ginger ale.

What do you notice?

Ginger is a bit spicy, and fresh ginger root can be especially strong! If you want to try ginger in some lemonade or applesauce, start with just a small amount, and then add more if you would like.

If you don’t like the flavor of ginger on its own, don’t worry! Often it’s a small amount of ginger combined with other flavors that people appreciate. Ginger ale and gingerbread just would not be the same without the ginger.