Pink Ginger: What It Is, Benefits, and Uses

If you love to cook, then you’ve likely encountered a fragrant, gnarled piece of ginger. This strange-looking plant can be an extremely versatile ingredient, and is one that every cook should get to know.

But while you may be familiar with the fresh ginger you can pick up in the produce section, have you ever wondered about the pink ginger you often see alongside your sushi? Let’s take a look at this unique condiment, along with some of its medicinal benefits and culinary uses.

How Did This Ginger Get Pink?

Often referred to as a root, culinary ginger is actually a rhizome—a kind of subterranean plant stem. Growing horizontally underground, each nub is capable of producing shoots with green leaves, which are also edible. Ginger comes in many different shapes and sizes, and there are as many as 1,600 known varieties. The most popular type of ginger used in cooking originates in Southeast Asia, and is simply called common ginger.

But what about those rosy, finely-mandolined slices of ginger you might have seen served next to sushi? This is called pink ginger, or gari in Japanese. It’s a traditional part of a tsukemono spread, a variety of pickled vegetables served as a snack or alongside a meal.

Pickled pink ginger in a bowl next to chop sticks

Pink ginger is common ginger that has been pickled, giving it a light pink color.

Gari is made from common ginger that has been pickled in a mixture of sugar, salt, rice vinegar, and sometimes dashi, a Japanese stock. When the cream-colored flesh is exposed to the pickling juices, a compound called anthocyanin is activated; if fresh, young ginger is used, this compound naturally gives the ginger a soft pink hue.

Some commercially made ginger might also contain color enhancers like E124, beet juice, or cochineal coloring in order to create a consistent, vibrant shade of pink. You can usually tell whether or not the ginger you’ve been served is fresh or has been enhanced by its depth of color. Freshly pickled ginger will lose its color after about three weeks if exposed to light and heat, while artificially colored ginger will stay bright for longer.

What Are the Medicinal Benefits of Pink Ginger?

Ginger has been used medicinally for over 5,000 years, long before it was used for cooking. Pink ginger shares some of the benefits of the raw plant, meaning it could be a healthy addition to your diet and the dishes you prepare.

Ginger root next to a bowl of ginger powder

Ginger has been used medicinally for thousands of years.

Ginger contains a component known as gingerol, which may play a role in providing relief from gastrointestinal issues; in one review of clinical trials, it was shown to have a positive effect on reducing nausea and functional dyspepsia, or chronic indigestion. Another study conducted by the University of Michigan found that ginger could potentially be effective in reducing the incidence of colorectal cancer.

Ginger may also be beneficial as a pain reliever. A review of twenty-one clinical studies found evidence that ginger may help with muscle soreness, osteoarthritis, and migraines. These findings are supported by other studies that have found that ginger may help relieve muscle pain and menstrual pain; in the latter study, it was found to be as effective as a pharmaceutical alternative.

The potential benefits of ginger are far-reaching, with another review of over one hundred studies noting its effectiveness as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer aid. With all these potential medicinal benefits, ginger could be a desirable addition to your diet and lifestyle.

How Can I Use Pink Ginger?

Ginger has a bright, spicy flavor profile that lends itself well to dishes from Asian and Caribbean cuisines. While pink ginger plays a specific role in traditional Japanese culture, it can also be used in place of common ginger in some recipes, with its milder flavor and acidic, slightly sweet profile bringing a unique dimension to your kitchen. Here are a few ways you might add pink ginger into your culinary repertoire.

Chef peeling ginger

Ginger can be a versatile ingredient, with many uses in the kitchen.

Sushi with Homemade Pickled Ginger

Pickled pink ginger is a staple of Japanese cuisine, designed to cleanse your palate between bites or after meals. It’s often eaten with sushi to add a more complex flavor.

If you’re interested in fermentation techniques, you might consider making your own pickled ginger to serve next time you have sushi. When doing your shopping, see if younger ginger is available; you can tell if ginger is young by its thin, almost transparent skin, pink tips, and juicier consistency. Young ginger is more likely to take on a natural pink tint, but you can certainly use older ginger and achieve a similar color by adding a slice of beet or radish!

Serve this homemade pink ginger the next time you make your own sushi to take your meal to the next level.

Dressings, Sauces, and Marinades

Pink ginger can be a great addition to Asian-inspired salad dressings—just be sure to slightly reduce the acid component in your recipe to adjust for the brined ginger.

This type of ginger can also be substituted into sauces for dishes like pork satay or pad thai, bringing a subtler, deeper flavor.

Pad Thai with shrimp, sprouts and green onions in a bowl

Pickled ginger instantly perks up any noodle bowl.

Pickled ginger can also be added to marinades, and can work especially well with flaky fish and shellfish. Use it in a ceviche, or make a citrusy marinade for fish like cod or branzino. It could also make a nice garnish next time you make fish tacos!

Creative Cocktails

For something truly special, consider making a cocktail with pickled ginger. Try shaking up this sake-based cocktail with pickled ginger juice, sipping on a Japanese Pickled Ginger Martini, or going for a Beet Bellini with Pickled Ginger.

Pickled ginger also makes a great addition to a Bloody Mary, spicing up this classic cocktail.

Interested in Learning More About Using Unique Ingredients?

Experimenting with unique ingredients like pickled ginger can be a lot of fun! If you’re eager to learn more about traditional and creative uses for everyday ingredients, consider exploring our online cooking classes. These classes, offered as a partnership between Escoffier Home Gourmet and America’s Test Kitchen, can give you the opportunity to learn online from any device and connect one-on-one with an Escoffier Chef Instructor.

If you’re interested in taking your culinary training even further, you might consider pursuing a degree or diploma in the culinary arts. With online and in-person programs available, you can have the chance to learn professional-level cooking skills and deepen your exposure to a wide world of culinary history and cuisine.

If you’re ready to embark on a new culinary adventure, contact us to learn more about the programs we offer.

Curious about unique culinary ingredients? Check out these articles next!

This article was originally published on January 8, 2014, and has since been updated.

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