If you want to add a little spice to your life, try cooking with fresh ginger. I grate it into soups, smoothies, desserts (especially ice cream), preserves and sauces.

Though it's often called ginger root, it is not a root at all but the rhizome or underground stem of the plant Zingiber officinale, which comes from the same family as turmeric and cardamom.

When buying fresh ginger, look for heavy pieces with smooth brown skin and no wrinkling or mold. Fresh ginger is hard and breaks cleanly with a snap. If you see pieces with fibers coming out at the break, they're old.

Ginger can be kept in the refrigerator for two to three weeks wrapped in a paper towel and placed in a plastic bag. Moisture is ginger's enemy and can cause mold to grow. It can also be wrapped in foil and stored in the freezer for one to two months. Though it will lose its crispness, the frozen ginger will still be flavorful.

If I have too much ginger on hand, I grate it, add enough water to make a paste and freeze it. I can then easily add it to stir-fries and other dishes.

To prepare ginger, scrape off the brown skin with a spoon (or leave it on), then chop, slice or grate the flesh using a Microplane grater.

In Chinese cooking, ginger is sliced into julienne, chopped or smashed and added to vegetable, fish and meat dishes. In Japanese cuisine, it's grated, shredded or pickled and served thinly sliced with sushi. Indian and Pakistani chefs favor it in curries and rice dishes.

We think of ginger as an Asian ingredient, but it has crossed over into many cuisines. You might find it in German cookies, Australian marmalades, Moroccan tagines and American cranberry relish.

Ginger does more than improve taste. It's also good for you. Traditionally, it has been used to relieve problems with digestion or nausea, including motion sickness.

If you like ginger's warm, pungent flavor, increase the amount used to suit your taste.