Gari, thin slices of pale pink pickled ginger, is more than a pretty garnish next to your maguro sushi order. Fresh and vibrant, gari serves as a palate cleanser so your taste buds can distinguish between the subtle flavor differences of raw fish. You should nibble a slice before your begin to eat your sushi (ginger also stimulates the production of saliva which is the first step of the digestive process), and definitely between eating different types of sushi. If you haven’t done so in the past, try this to see if your palate can better appreciate the taste of your raw fish.
Gari sometimes is enjoyed as a condiment for other dishes, too. Often, you’ll see gari with katsuobushi (dried bonito shavings) on tofu. But gari shouldn’t be confused with beni shoga, or red pickled ginger, that is a type of tsukemono used as a condiment for Japanese dishes such as okonomiyaki or gyudon. The red color of beni shoga comes from the red perilla (aka shiso)plant. Gari gets its pale pink color naturally from the pickling process (although today many commercial producers add pink food coloring.)
Ginger is prized in Asia for its medicinal and health benefits, too. Studies show that components in ginger have antiseptic properties and effectively treat nausea, diarrhea and pain; other research has shown that ginger oil prevents skin cancer in mice and can eradicate ovarian cancer cells. One of the oils in ginger is called shagaol, the name from which the Japanese word for ginger (shoga or shouga) was derived.
Long known for soothing digestive upset, ginger is consumed as a tea (See BellaOnline Living Simply Fresh Ginger Tea Recipe). It’s also common to see many ginger-flavored foods from confections to canned beverages. Mature ginger root, dry and fibrous, is ground into a spice powder while younger ginger root is consumed or prepared while fresh and juicy. The flavor difference between the two is vast. And by the way, fresh ginger can be frozen whole for later use so do pick it up when it's on sale.
Gari Pink Pickled Ginger
1 lb. fresh young ginger root
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 ½ cups rice vinegar (*not* seasoned rice vinegar)
¾ cup sugar
Wash and peel ginger. Cut off and discard any hard or dried areas. Using a mandolin or other slicing device that cuts paper thin shavings, slice the ginger root. Place the slices into a colander and sprinkle with sea salt. Let them sit for about 30 minutes.
In a small saucepan, bring the rice vinegar and sugar to a simmer, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Cool.
Squeeze out the liquid from the ginger slices and pat dry with paper towels. Put the ginger into a clean glass container. Pour in the vinegar-sugar mixture. Cover the jar with a lid. Shake to be sure all the slices are coated. Store in the refrigerator and let it pickle for about a week. A pale pink color will develop slowly as the ginger pickles. (If it doesn’t, it could mean that the ginger was not young and fresh.)