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Whether you eat sushi in a traditional sushi-ya in Japan, a sophisticated upscale restaurant in California, or get pre-packaged stuff from the grocery store, one thing is common – you are going to find some sort of pink or yellow ginger next to your order. Ever wondered, why?
I know you too often wonder ‘Why is ginger served with sushi.’ So, I decided to do some digging for the answer. According to sushi tradition, pickled ginger (known as ‘gari’ in Japanese) is used as a palate cleanser during a meal, typically in between sushi courses comprising of different fish to enable you to distinguish the taste.
What Is The Reason Behind Serving Ginger With Sushi
Ginger has a significant role to play and has its roots in the age-old tradition of sushi eating. At any authentic sushi bar, the chef will serve you two pieces of nigiri (containing the same fish) at a time. For this, he may choose delicate raw flesh of salmon, tuna, sea bass, eel, trout, mackerel, crab, shrimp, etc.
When you consume sushi, it leaves a lingering taste in your mouth, which is overpowering at times. If you follow with another sushi variety that contains another fish with subtle flavors, you will hardly be able to tell the difference. This is where gari or pickled ginger comes into play!
As you take a bite of the thin slices of pink ginger, it will cleanse your mouth by removing the previous taste so that your palate is ready to enjoy the distinct flavors of the next variety of fish. Read on to find out more on how to prepare this traditional condiment and what’s the right way to eat pickled ginger or you can click here to see my recommended Ginger brand to get it on Amazon.
How does ginger help in cleansing the palate?
Pickled ginger has an acidic spiciness, which works like a perfect antidote to the fishy taste of seafood. Taking a bite of gari in between different courses of sushi neutralize the taste buds, so that you can enjoy the distinct taste of different varieties of fish in one sitting.
Why Does The Ginger (Gari) Look Pink Or Pale Yellow?
Gari is the pink or pale yellow stuff that you can see sitting unassumingly on your sushi plate to the side. It belongs to the tsukemono family, which in Japanese means ‘pickled things’. What type of things you may ask?
Well, gari is always made from carefully selected young ginger roots that have a sweet flavor. Thin slices of the ginger are then marinated with vinegar and sugar in the right proportions. The pickling process changes the hue and the ginger slices develop a slight pink or yellow tint.
It should be remembered that only the young and tender ginger roots will turn into pink color naturally. Several brands of commercially available pickled ginger or gari are artificially colored pink or the color is intensified using beet juice or E124 food additive. This is because the ginger used was too mature to develop a pink hue upon pickling.
How To Make Pickled Ginger Or Gari At Home (Recipe)
While you can find pickled ginger in almost any Asian grocery store, the joy of making fresh homemade stuff is unique in itself. So, here’s a quick recipe to make your own delicious sushi ginger that also goes well with several other delicacies as well.
Please note that you must always use young ginger harvested and sold in the early summer season. I cannot emphasize this enough because young ginger has a mild flavor and fine meaty texture that feels soft and tender, unlike matured ginger that is used for cooking.
When buying ginger to make Gari, look for the ones that have pink tips because this pink pigment is responsible for that attractive pink hue of Gari. You can find young ginger in Asian grocery stores near you.
• 2 lbs. tender young ginger
• 3 cups rice vinegar
• 2 cups sugar
• 2 tsp. salt
Wash the young ginger roots and remove any brown spots using a spoon. The skin is very thin and tender so you can easily peel it with your fingers or use a spoon.
Make fine slices of the ginger using a sharp Japanese knife and sprinkle some salt over them. Let the salted ginger slices sit in the bowl for about one hour.
Dry the ginger slices using paper towels and transfer them to a sterilized and heat-resistant jar or container.
Now, mix the rice vinegar and sugar in a pan and boil the content until the strong vinegar smell evaporates completely.
Pour this hot solution of vinegar and sugar to cover the ginger slices completely. If you prefer the ginger slices to be a little spicy, take them out after a minute or else let the mixture work for 2-3 minutes.
Take a sieve and drain the ginger slices. Let them cool by placing them over a paper towel. At this stage, you can see the ginger change color to a slight pinkish tone. (please note that if you have used old ginger for the recipe, it might not turn pink naturally).
Drain the slices in a sieve and let them cool by placing them on a paper towel in a single layer. Pickled ginger changes its color to light pink. If you are using old ginger, it might not turn pink naturally.
Use clean hands to squeeze out extra liquid from the ginger slices and put them back into the jar. Close the lid tightly and store in the refrigerator.
What Is The Correct Way To Eat Pickled Ginger Or Gari
As mentioned above, ginger is used as a palate cleanser between different types of sushi and it should be strictly used in that way if you want to enjoy sushi in a traditional format.
I have often seen self-proclaimed sushi connoisseurs pile their sushi with ginger slices even before taking a bite and this is a no-no. This is against sushi eating etiquettes. If you do this in a sushi bar or restaurant, you will offend fellow diners and the sushi chef.
Putting ginger slices over sushi is not only a misuse of painstakingly created gari but this also suggests that you do not appreciate the chef’s skills. Each piece of sushi served by your chef is crafted to maintain a perfect balance of texture and flavor. Don’t ruin the taste by topping it with gari or anything else.
The correct method of eating gari is to take a bite of the tender slices between the different sushi courses. You can use chopsticks to hold the gari or eat it using your hands. Your taste buds and sushi chef will thank you for following the tradition correctly.
How long can you store the pickled ginger or gari?
The store-bought pickled ginger should be refrigerated and consumed within three months after opening the jar. In an airtight container, pickled ginger can be crystallized and stored for up to one year or even more.
Why does my pickled ginger look pale yellow or brown?
The salt and vinegar added to ginger during the pickling process turn it pink naturally, however, the color does not last for long when stored. The light pink color eventually fades in less than three months and turns pale yellow and brown as ginger is exposed to heat and UV light.
How can I prevent pickled ginger from turning brown?
For white/ pale yellow ginger, you need to add sodium metabisulphite (an allergen) to prevent them from turning brown. If you wish to preserve the natural pinkish hue of pickled ginger, keep it away from UV light and heat, refrigerated at 2 degree Celsius. In this condition, the color will remain for up to one year.
What does pickled ginger served with sushi taste like?
The ginger served with sushi is prepared by pickling thin slices of young ginger with vinegar, salt, and sugar. As the pickled ginger has high vinegar content, this gives a sour taste to it. Salt and sugar balance the sourness to add a dash of sweetness. So, you will find it sweet and sour at the same time.
What is the difference between white and pink ginger?
At the grocery stores, you will often find white and pink pickled ginger. The difference in color is mainly due to the use of dye. When ginger slices are pickled, they turn slightly pink if the ginger is young, otherwise, it may look white or pale yellow. If the gari looks intensely pink, this is due to the addition of artificial food coloring.