Beni Shoga: Japanese Red Ginger With a Twist
Guess what? There are very few people in the world who wouldn’t like Japanese food. It’s so difficult to dislike, especially when you are someone who values flavor as much as health.
However, as much as we appreciate every dish in its original tasty glory, zooshing it up with a condiment still remains a ritual…for me, at least.
No matter how delicious a dish is, that extra kick makes it 10x better.
One of those extra “kicks” is beni shoga. It’s a type of Japanese tsukemono (Japanese pickles), having sweet, sour, and herby taste, with a bright red color that can easily catch your eye.
In this article, I’ll explain exactly what beni shoga is, what it’s used for, and pretty much everything you need to know about it.
In this post we'll cover:
- 1 What is beni shoga?
- 2 What does beni shoga mean?
- 3 What does beni shoga taste like?
- 4 How is beni shoga made?
- 5 Beni shoga vs. gari: what’s the difference?
- 6 What are the best dishes to eat with beni shoga?
- 7 Is beni shoga healthy?
- 8 Conclusion
What is beni shoga?
Beni shoga is a pickled ginger frequently used as a condiment in Japanese cuisine.
It originates from the ancient city of Kyoto and can be identified by its bright red color derived from its main ingredient, red shoga (ginger).
Beni shoga’s vibrant color comes from the traditional preparation method through fermentation (which makes it a fermented food).
In this process, red shoga root is cut into thin strips, mixed with salt, and then fermented for several days.
Once ready, it is extensively rinsed before being stored in vinegar.
Although beni shoga has been around for centuries, it didn’t gain popularity until the 1950s when it started appearing on Japanese restaurant menus as part of their traditional offerings.
Today, beni shoga is widely used in Japanese cuisine due to its bold flavor and eye-catching color.
In addition to sushi and yakitori, it’s also commonly served as part of traditional bento boxes.
It can also be found in other dishes such as omelets, salads, stir-fries, and desserts! Its versatility makes beni shoga one of the most popular condiments in Japan today.
In addition to its unique taste, beni shoga has also been known for its health benefits, such as aiding digestion and boosting metabolism, thanks to its high content of Vitamin C and other nutrients.
What does beni shoga mean?
Beni shoga (紅生姜) are two Japanese words. In Japanese, “beni” means crimson or deep red, and “shoga” means ginger.
Hence, it translates as red ginger in English. The name is given due to the ginger’s red appearance after being pickled.
What does beni shoga taste like?
Beni shoga has an intense yet balanced tart and sour taste that adds a zingy and flavorful twist to many dishes.
The pickling process enhances the ginger’s natural sweetness, making it much more palatable. In fact, the longer you pickle the ginger, the milder and sweeter it gets.
Thus, you can expect slight changes in the flavor over time as you store it in a container. If you enjoy it while it’s still super-sour, you would like to use it up a little quicker.
How is beni shoga made?
Compared to other Japanese pickled foods and condiments, beni shoga is surprisingly easy to make.
It is made with thin ginger strips that have been pickled in umezu, the same vinegar-based pickling liquid used to create umeboshi.
All you need to do is to source some high-quality gingerroot, cut them into thin slices, julienne them, and coat them with salt for a few hours to to draw out any liquid from the ginger.
Afterwards, you will need to remove the slices from the jar and clean off any excess salt.
Afterward, you will need to put the slices in umeboshi vinegar, and pickle it for a few days.
To make the juice red, red perilla is traditionally used, although nowadays artifocial coloring is more common.
The juice will draw out the natural sourness of the ginger and give it a sweet-tart flavor that we all love!
Beni shoga vs. gari: what’s the difference?
While both might look similar to an unfamiliar eye, beni shoga and gari are two different condiments made with the same primary ingredient, ginger.
As you look closely, you will see that in beni shoga, the ginger is julienned into thin slices compared to gari, in which the ginger is cut lengthwise.
Another difference is in terms of color. Beni shoga has a very vibrant red color, while gari, on the other hand, is light pink.
However, the most significant difference between both is the taste and ingredients!
Beni shoga has a mildly sweet and sharp flavor with hints of tartness obtained from the umeboshi vinegar. It goes well with almost every dish, just like an ordinary pickle.
On the other hand, gari tends to be a little, or way sweeter than beni shoga, as it’s primarily made with sugar and rice vinegar.
Hence, it is specially served with sushi and sashimi.
In fact, gari goes so well with sushi that it’s often called “sushi ginger”.
What are the best dishes to eat with beni shoga?
As I mentioned, beni shoga goes great with almost every dish, irrespective of the cuisine. But does it mean we don’t have any favorites here?
Well, that isn’t the case. There are a bunch of Japanese dishes that beni shoga accentuates like nothing else.
The following are some of them:
One of the most delicious Japanese noodle dishes, yakisoba comes with a saucy, savory blast fueled by beni shoga.
If you haven’t added beni shoga to your recipe ingredients list yet, it’s time you do.
When cooked, top the noodles with these beautiful slices of ginger and feel the flavors explode in your mouth. It couldn’t get any better!
Craving for some flavor? Nothing could be better than some takoyaki for a quick brunch.
It’s a ball-shaped Japanese snack with octopus, green onion, tempura scraps, and beni shoga as filling.
Combined, the ingredients make these little balls into flavor powerhouses that keep your tastebuds charging with flavor with each bite.
Here is how you make authentic takoyaki with beni shoga as a filling.
Umami, sour, sweet, beefy, there’s so much going on with gyudon. While it’s easily one of the most flavorful dishes, the extra kick ginger adds is worth it!
Not only does it accentuate the dish’s already fantastic flavor, the distinct aroma of beni shoga gives gyudon all the extra depth it needs to become more appetizing.
One of my absolute favorite recipes on a lazy day, okonomiyaki is something you cannot miss when we talk about dishes that go well with ginger.
Beni shoga is also a crucial ingredient in Kamaboko Fried Rice (20 Min Yakimeshi Recipe here)
Is beni shoga healthy?
While ordinary ginger is healthy, pickled ginger is super healthy. Following are some of the biggest health benefits you can expect as you make beni shoga a part of your diet:
Zero fat, low cholesterol levels
Beni shoga contains zero fat content and no saturated or unsaturated fat.
While many foods will affect your body’s cholesterol levels with daily consumption, beni shoga does nothing like that and can be eaten anytime with your favorite meals.
A great tastemaker that doesn’t make you fat? Yes, please!
Low sodium, low hypertension risk
Beni shoga, or pickled ginger in general, is primarily made with vinegar and salt.
While the excess salt at the beginning might be too much sodium packed, the finished product is relatively low in sodium.
The amount even lessens as you rinse the ginger clean before putting it in umeboshi vinegar.
A single tablespoon of beni shoga contains about 65-215 mg of sodium, significantly less than condiments like soy sauce, which contains about 1,110mg of sodium per tablespoon.
In other words, you are at a much lower risk of developing hypertension and other related heart diseases.
High probiotics, healthy intestinal tract
Probiotics are the “good” bacteria found in different body parts, facilitating different biological functions.
Fermented foods like beni shoga contain ample probiotics, consequently improving your overall gastrointestinal functioning, aiding your immune system, and lowering the risk of colon cancer.
High antioxidants, better nutrition
Gingers are naturally filled with a unique compound called gingerols.
Gingerols are phenolic compounds that make gingers super healthy with their contribution to the production of antioxidants and antimicrobial inhibitors in the body.
They are also quite helpful in alleviating problems like nausea, pain, and arthritis.
Beni shoga is an incredibly versatile and healthy condiment that can be used to add flavor and zest to a variety of dishes.
From takoyaki and gyudon to okonomiyaki, adding beni shoga will take your meals up a notch in terms of taste and nutrition.
Plus, its low sodium content makes it ideal for those who are watching their salt intake or suffer from hypertension.
So next time you’re looking for something special to season your dish, consider giving beni shoga a try!
Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.