I grew up with a steady supply of fresh ginger in my kitchen. While some kids woke up to the smell of pancakes or eggs and bacon, I rose to the sweet and slightly spicy scent of my mother’s ginger tea, a cup of which warmed me up on cold winter mornings and settled my stomach for the breakfast I’d prepare for myself before school (I was a very picky eater). Nowadays, my mornings begin with a strong cup of coffee, but I always have some fresh ginger on hand in case I’m feeling tea or am cooking something that could use a little extra oomph. But once in a while I reach into the crisper of my fridge to find that I’ve forgotten to replenish my stash: All that’s left behind is a shriveled up and slightly moldy knob that’s headed straight for the trash.
If you find yourself there, too, there’s still hope! When it comes to the best ginger substitutes, it’s certainly easier with some recipes than others. For example, apple pie cookies would be fine with a substitute, but in something like gingery spice cake (or my mom’s tea!), where ginger plays a main role, you might just need to head to the store. Regardless, there are likely a few items knocking around your pantry that can do the trick.
1. Ground Ginger
If a recipe calls for fresh ginger, the easiest swap is ground ginger, as it’s the same ingredient in a different form. Still, it’s important to remember that ground ginger is much more potent. If you swap it 1:1, your dish might have more heat and earthiness than expected. Instead, for every 1 tablespoon of fresh ginger called for, use ¼ to ½ teaspoon of ground ginger.
2. Crystallized Ginger
Crystallized ginger is fresh ginger that’s been boiled in a mixture of sugar and water, then rolled in sugar. It’s best used as a substitute for ground or fresh ginger in sweet dishes. For added texture and a bit of ginger with every bite, keep the pieces a little larger. Otherwise, very finely chop it. Be sure to separate pieces that might stick together in the batter by tossing them in with the dry ingredients first.
Both galangal and ginger are rhizomes, plants with stems that spread underground and let off shoots that become new rootstalks. Ginger and galangal are quite similar in overall flavor, so if you can get it at your grocery store, the two can be swapped 1:1. The same goes for ground galangal and ground ginger. But be aware that galangal has piney and citrusy notes that ginger does not; if the recipe you’re substituting it in includes citrus or lemongrass as well as ginger, galangal is a great option.
4. Allspice, Turmeric, Cardamom, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, or Mace
Of course, none of these spices really tastes like ginger. Instead, think of them as alternatives rather than direct substitutes: In a recipe that calls for ground ginger, you can substitute the same amount of any of these spices—or a mixture of them. This method will work best in quick breads and other baked goods.
Allspice is a great option if you need a substitute for ginger is a hearty stew, like Jamaican beef stew. It will supply the sweet spice that the ginger would have added. Turmeric, cardamom, and ginger all belong to the Zingiberaceae family of flowering plants. The difference is that we eat the pods and seeds of cardamom rather than the root, like we do with ginger and turmeric. Cardamom will add sweet, spicy, and citrusy flavor to cakes, curries, and drinks like mulled wine. Warm and earthy turmeric is a great addition to rice dishes, soups, and smoothies. Cinnamon and nutmeg are sweet and woody, making them fine swaps for ginger especially in custards, cakes, and pies like this pear ginger galette. Because nutmeg’s intense flavor includes notes of clove, it can add a welcome pepperiness in place of ginger’s spice. Maybe you need a substitute for the substitute? Mace is the skin found around a nutmeg seed, just slightly muted in flavor and without nutmeg’s subtle sweetness.