Wizened Ginger, Faded Flavor

Is a shriveled and dried-out root an indication that ginger is no longer suitable for cooking?

We rarely use up an entire knob of fresh ginger in one go, and we routinely store the remainder in the fridge. But after a few weeks, the root tends to shrivel and dry out. Is this an indication that it’s no longer suitable for cooking?

Two batches of stir-fried broccoli later, we had our answer. Though tasters found both dishes acceptable, the sample made with fresh, plump ginger packed spicy heat and “zing,” while the broccoli made with a more wizened specimen turned out “mild” and “flat.” Why? As ginger ages, it loses its signature pungency from the compound gingerol. During storage—and even as it’s heated—gingerol converts into a more mild-flavored compound called zingerone, which, despite its sharp-sounding name, is far less assertive than its precursor. Lesson learned: If possible, buy small pieces of ginger and use it while it’s fresh. And if you’re polishing off an older piece, be prepared to use more than the recipe calls for and add it as close as possible to the end of cooking.

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