Is Ginger Spicy? A Spotlight On Ginger’s Warmth

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Ginger originated in India and China and got its name from a Sanskrit word that means “horn-like” or “antler-like.” It has played a significant role in both Indian and Chinese cooking for centuries and is one of the earliest spices to make its way to Europe. One of the factors to consider before using it is its spice level. Below we will look at ginger’s heat as well as the compounds responsible for its flavor. 

Is ginger spicy?

Ginger is spicy and is often described using adjectives like spicy, fiery, and biting. The heat has to do with several factors, such as how the ginger is processed. Fresh ginger has an entirely different heat level from ginger that has been cooked or dried. In other words: The answer to the question of how spicy is ginger depends on the kind of ginger. A big part of the warmth experienced has to do with the source of the ginger’s heat, which we will cover below. 

What causes the warm flavor you experience with ginger?

Ginger’s spiciness can come from any of these three compounds: zingerone, gingerol, and shogaol. All three come from gingerol. Gingerol is a phenol found in fresh, uncooked ginger and is chemically related to capsaicin, but it is much milder. It is also related to the eugenol found in cinnamon and nutmeg and to the piperine from which black pepper gets its heat. 

When ginger is dried, the gingerol forms 6-shogaol, which is sometimes shortened to simply shogaol. The transformation doubles the heat, which is why many people find dried ginger to be spicier than the fresh stuff. If you want to make your fresh ginger even hotter, the answer is to dry it out. 

When gingerol is exposed to heat, it becomes zingerone. Zingerone has a lot less in common with capsaicin and more with vanilla. 

Does ginger get spicier as it ages?

Old and young ginger will offer you the distinctive heat and pungent sweetness that you expect from ginger, but they do so to different degrees. The spice level of ginger does increase as it gets older. Young ginger is mild, succulent, and crisp with a thinner skin and paler color; old ginger is spicier, drier, and more fibrous.

Does cooking ginger increase/decrease its warmth?

Cooked ginger is much milder than the raw version but still retains a little heat. The conversion of gingerol to zingerone does decrease its warmth, but it depends on how much of the ginger is exposed to heat. For example, only the exterior parts of large chunks of ginger might get exposed to the heat, so the interiors may still be spicy because they contain gingerol that has not been heated and converted to zingerone. 

Can you tone down ginger’s spiciness?

Cooking the ginger to convert the gingerol to zingerone is one way to mitigate the heat. Zingerone is what gives cooked ginger its sweet, aromatic character. There are other ways to lower ginger’s spicy heat. Some experts suggest using sugar to not only counteract the compounds that produce the heat but also to balance the bitterness that you can get from using too much ginger. You can also tone down the heat from dried ginger in a dish by adding more of the other ingredients in proportion to the ginger.


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