Pickled ginger is a brined ginger root that is traditionally served with sushi meals. Fresh ginger is marinated in a solution of vinegar and sugar to draw out a sweet and spicy flavor. This ginger variant is also commonly referred to as gari ginger, its Japanese term, or sushi ginger.
Ginger is a type of root plant that is often utilized for medicinal and culinary purposes. Ginger root is a popular ingredient in cooking and can be turned into a spice or flavoring for a number of dishes and snacks including soups, candies, and drinks. It is often used both raw or cooked in many Asian cuisines. Pickled ginger is a popular pickle variation that emerged from Japan, where ginger is often incorporated into meals as a flavoring, especially alongside sushi.
A typical Japanese sushi or sashimi meal is accompanied by two sides, wasabi and ginger. The wasabi is generally used to flavor sushi or sashimi. The pickled ginger garnish, however, is usually consumed after eating the sushi and sashimi, either in between bites or at the end of the meal. Eating pickled ginger is said to refresh the palate for a purer and cleaner tasting experience. While pickled ginger is typically served with sushi, it can also be enjoyed by itself, with other dishes, such as salads, or with rice.
The addition of pickled ginger as a side garnish in sushi also draws on its purported medicinal properties. Pickled ginger was originally thought to settle the stomach after eating and ensure the smooth digestion of the fish and rice. The consumption of pickled ginger was also believed to counter unwanted side effects and illnesses that might surface from eating unhealthy or contaminated fish.
The characteristic pink coloring of pickled ginger is attributed to the brining process. Naturally fermented ginger can appear in hues of light yellow and pink. Some commercial producers add secondary coloring agents, typically beet juice or the synthetic food coloring E124, for a brighter, more recognizable shade of pink. Pickled ginger can be purchased pre-made in stores or it can be brined at home without preservatives and artificial coloring.
The traditional brining solution dissolves sugar in vinegar, and a fresh, young ginger is selected for its milder taste and less fibrous texture. The root is sliced very thinly and salted to draw out moisture. The sugar and vinegar solution is then boiled and poured hot over the raw ginger slices. The ginger mixture is stored in the refrigerator overnight to allow for fermentation. The pickled ginger slices can be kept in the refrigerator for up to one month, during which time the light pink color will continue to develop.