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What is Pickled Ginger?

By Soo Owens
Updated Feb 02, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments

By stoneMason — On Apr 09, 2014

I made pickled ginger for the first time. I didn't have rice vinegar so I used apple cider vinegar. I don't think that my ginger was young either but it turned out great regardless. It's not pink but it tastes the same so I don't mind it.

I have just started making sushi at home and both my husband and I love pickled ginger. Making the pickled ginger myself is going to save me a lot of money. I think that ready made pickled ginger is a bit costly. I buy my ginger at a good price at the Asian market, so I have no reason not to make my own pickled ginger.

By serenesurface — On Apr 09, 2014

@turquoise-- Making pickled ginger at home is very easy. You can follow the recipe in the article. That's how all pickled ginger is made.

Just make sure to use young ginger and slice the ginger very thin. If the ginger is not young, unfortunately it doesn't take on the pinkish color that it should. Most regular supermarkets do not have young ginger but Asian supermarkets often do.

Or you could just buy your pickled ginger ready made. It will taste just as good. If you buy a good brand, I'm sure it won't contain any food coloring and the pink color will be natural.

By turquoise — On Apr 08, 2014

I love pickled ginger. I don't like using many condiments with my sushi. I don't use wasabi or soy sauce for example, but I always use pickled ginger. I love the flavor it adds to the sushi and it's so beneficial. Ginger is excellent for the stomach and aids digestion. So it's not just a pickle, but also a wonderful remedy. I wish I could make my own pickled ginger.

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