PICKLED GINGER: This familiar accompaniment to sushi—known as gari in the specialized vocabulary of sushi restaurants—is made from fresh ginger, marinated until tender and pink in a rice-vinegar brine and then sliced paper-thin along the grain. It is served both to cleanse the palate and to complement the flavor of fresh raw fish and vinegared rice.
GINGER TEA: Ginger is steeped alone in water to make a cleansing tonic “tea” in various parts of Asia, but it was also one of the first additives to Chinese tea, as early as the Tang period (A.D. 618-907). A steaming cupful soothes the stomach and the soul.
POWDERED GINGER: This mainstay of baking, which comes in several grades, has a character and a history of its own. India is the oldest source of this rich, warm spice; Jamaica provides the most expensive and highly prized example. Chinese ginger is nearly as good, and less costly. As with any ground spice, aroma and flavor are fragile, so buy in small quantities.
PRESERVED GINGER: Fresh ginger mellowed in sugar syrup is delicious as a spicy-sweet condiment or frozen in ice creams. Chinese preserves, like the naturally tawny and the brilliant red-dyed gingers, are often flavored with a touch of salt and licorice. Since the 1940s, Australia’s “ginger coast” in Queensland has also produced superb preserved ginger for export.
DRIED GINGER: Keeping dried ginger on hand allows you to grind it only as needed—providing surprisingly true ginger flavor. Buy it in an Indian or Chinese market, or dry your own: choose mature rhizomes for sharper taste, peel them if you wish, and let them bake in the sun for two weeks. To use, break into small pieces, and reduce to powder in an electric coffee grinder.
CRYSTALLIZED GINGER: Slow-cooked in sugar water, then rolled in granulated sugar, candied ginger is a treat with a gentle, warming bite. It’s also one of the world’s oldest candies, and turns up in Marco Polo’s descriptions of Chinese street food. Western diners, from medieval England to colonial America, nibbled slices of candied ginger after meals as both dessert and digestif.