Often served with sushi or sashimi as a side dish, pickled ginger (“gari” in the Japanese tongue), is made with the purpose to cleanse your palate in order for your tastebuds to experience the best flavors in your meal.
People just can’t get over the four distinctive flavors of pickled ginger gives them – spicy, sweet, briny, and bright.
As a matter of fact, some people even love to eat at a sushi restaurant simply because of how great the gari is.
Imagine that?! And you thought the sushi is what people are craving for the most (although sushi is pretty great as well, and there are all these different types of it)
The gari that you’ll purchase from restaurants and stores will probably taste great; however, what you may not know is that it’s actually very easy as well as inexpensive to prepare it at home.
Let’s talk about that in this post.
What is Gari?
Gari is a sushi side dish made from thinly sliced young ginger rhizomes and then pickled in rice vinegar that’s been sweetened.
It is one of the most common side dishes of sushi.
The most surprising thing is that it’s very easy to make yet it’s also a very healthy dish as you don’t need any preservatives to prepare it.
The pink-colored pickled ginger that’s commonly found at sushi restaurants is called sushi ginger or “gari” in Japanese.
The pink color comes from the pink tips of fresh young ginger.
(this is a text overlay image based on the original work young fresh ginger by Ruth Hartnup on Flickr under cc)
Japanese sushi chefs prefer young ginger for pickling, because its thin skin is easy to peel, and its flesh is still tender which makes it also easy to slice thinly.
Young ginger is difficult to harvest, as it only grows in the spring, which is why it is more commonly found at an international market than your local supermarket – needless to say it is expensive.
However, even the older gingers that are called “golden hands” that’s widely available in groceries can be prepared and made to look like pink pickled ginger as well.
While using different kinds of knives, you’ll be surprised to find out that a spoon is a much more efficient tool to use when peeling gingers whether young or matured ones.
Pink Pickled Ginger
Making the gari from a young ginger is easier, because it has a natural pink pigment, whereas the older ones change from golden-yellow to brown.
But you can also make pink pickled ginger from mature gingers and all you need to add is a single red radish to the mix when you pickle the ginger.
This method is only optional, as it is always recommended that you use young ginger to make gari.
Still, you may encounter white or beige gari in many sushi restaurants these days, and when you do, then you’ll know that the gari is made from mature ginger.
There were some cases where patrons of a sushi joint thought that the pink pickled ginger was made using artificial food coloring and rejected it right off the bat.
This prompted chefs to just prepare their gari without any additives or use mature ginger in order to appease their guests.
Taming Ginger’s Heat
In case you’re going to use mature ginger to make your gari, then be sure to cure it quickly (and cook it lightly) and add salt before you pickle it.
This is because it’s a bit tougher and fiercer than the fresh young ginger.
Marinate the sliced ginger with kosher salt and leave it in a small bowl for 35 minutes before you pickle it.
The salt is meant to make the ginger tender and also tame its heat.
Using Your Pickled Ginger
Gari can be used on other dishes besides sushi or sashimi and because they taste so good, they instantly complement any sufficiently delicious delicacy.
Here are a few examples:
- You can use it for stir-fry recipes, although you may need to chop it up into tinier pieces, then pour the brine into cold noodle sauces.
- You can also whisk it together with salad dressings.
- Mix it with salted green beans and peanuts.
- It can also be used in lemonade and cocktails to have a better blend.
- Add it to braised meat in order to enhance the taste.
- And, of course, eat it as a side dish with your sushi and sashimi.
Best “Gari” Pink Pickled Sushi Ginger Recipes
Pink Gari sushi ginger recipe
- 3.5-5 oz young ginger root (100-150 g)
- ½ tbsp salt kosher or sea salt, use only half if it's table salt)
Japanese Sweet vinegar (Amazu)
- ½ cup minus 1 tbsp rice vinegar (100ml)
- 4 tbsp sugar (45 g)
- Prepare the ingredients
- Scrape off the unwanted brown spots with a spoon, then use a peeler to slice the ginger thinly
- Sprinkle the thinly sliced ginger with 1/2 tsp kosher salt and let it sit for 5 minutes, then toss it into a pot of boiling water and allow it to cook from 1 to 3 minutes. If you prefer to retain the ginger’s spiciness, then cook it for only 1 minute; otherwise, keep it in the pot for 3 minutes.
- Once cooked, pour the water and ginger on a strainer to drain the water and then spread them on a paper towel over a clean dry plate. You can use food plastic gloves to cover your hands as you pick the ginger one by one and squeeze them over a Mason jar in order to remove the remaining water in the ginger slices.
- Boil 100ml of rice vinegar, 4 Tbsp sugar, and 1/2 tsp kosher salt in a small cooking pot for about 60 seconds and wait until you can smell the vinegar evaporating. After 1 minute turn off the stove and let the pot cool, then pour the vinegar mix from the pot and into the Mason jar where you’ve previously placed the sliced ginger. Allow to cool for a few minutes and then close it with the lid and place in the refrigerator.
- After several hours you should be able to see the ginger slices turn slightly pink in color, and then it will show more pink colors after a few days. Use the pink pickled ginger as needed. The way the pickled ginger is preserved is so good that it can last up to a year before getting spoiled as long as it is kept in an airtight container and refrigerated.
Some ingredients you might need:
Homemade Pickled Ginger
- 8 ounces fresh young ginger root, peeled
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1 cup rice vinegar
- 1/3 cup white sugar
- Chop off the ginger into tiny chunks and put them in a small mixing bowl. Drizzle them with sea salt, mix thoroughly in order to coat the ginger with salt and then let it sit for about half-an-hour. Transfer the salted ginger into a sterilized Mason jar.
- Preheat a saucepan over the stove, then pour the rice vinegar and sugar and mix until the mix has become syrup. Bring to boil, then carry the saucepan over the jar and pour the hot liquid mixture into the ginger root pieces.
- Let the pickle cool for a while, then close the lid and refrigerate it for a week or so before using it on your sushi or sashimi. After a few minutes, the hot liquid comes into contact with the ginger you should be able to notice how it will change from colorless to slightly pinkish color. However, there’s no need to be concerned as this is a normal chemical reaction between the rice vinegar and the ginger (this chemical reaction can only come about if you use genuine rice vinegar). Some pickled ginger products like those that are commercially viable (not made by sushi chefs in sushi restaurants) use red coloring to get that pinkish hue. Slice the ginger into paper-thin slices when you serve them to your guests.
Wash your hands clean or use food plastic gloves to squeeze the ginger slices off of the liquid it had absorbed and put them in a Mason jar.
Place the lid over the jar to cover it and refrigerate it. The pickle should last for up to 1 year and you can use it on various recipes aside from sushi and sashimi.
Pink Pickled Ginger Just Like Those Served in Sushi Restaurants
- 150 g new ginger rhizomes
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup rice vinegar
- 3 tbsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp kelp dashi powder
- Open the faucet and rinse the ginger rhizomes by scrubbing them and removing the brown spots.
- Cut out the stems but leave the red part at the bottom remaining attached to the rhizomes, as this is needed to create the pink color of the pickle.
- Use a deba or santoku knife to slice the rhizomes as thin as you possibly can.
- Boil water in a pot and parboil the sliced ginger.
- Pour the parboiled water and filter the ginger rhizomes through a sieve, then lay the sliced ginger on a cooling tray over a paper towel in a single file and allow them to dry.
- Pre-heat a small saucepan on the stove over medium heat and place the vinegar, sugar, salt and kelp dashi powder into it and simmer.
- Once the dashi powder and sugar dissolves, then turn off the stove.
- Make sure to wear plastic food gloves or wash your hands clean before you squeeze the excess water off of the sliced and parboiled ginger.
- This time place the sliced ginger into a clean food container or a glass jar and get the vinegar mix in the saucepan and pour it over the ginger rhizomes while it’s still hot. When the liquid mix comes into contact with the ginger rhizomes, you’ll see how it will change from white to pink almost instantaneously.
- Allow it to cool for a few minutes, then refrigerate. You can use it on any recipe where it is needed after 3 hours.
Japanese Pickled Ginger Recipe with kombu
- 9 to 10 ounces young ginger
- 1/3 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, organic preferred for great flavor
- 2 teaspoons fine sea salt, or 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2/3 cup unseasoned Japanese rice vinegar
- 2 squares of dried kombu (kelp), each about the size of your thumbnail (optional)
- Turn the spoon around so that you will scrape off the ginger’s skin using the inverted side of the spoon. You can use either a mandoline or one of those very sharp Japanese knives. To get the perfect slices, you must cut against the grain and try to cut it as thin as possible to almost see-through pieces.
- Transfer the ginger slices to a non-stick pan or a small mixing bowl. Add in the 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar and salt. Let it sit for 30 minutes so that the chemical reaction between the salt, sugar, and ginger will take off the edge.
- Place a kettle of water on the stove and bring it to a boil – do it at approximately 10 minutes before the ginger loses its spiciness. Once the ginger’s harshness wears off after 30 minutes, you may go ahead and pour the hot water over it. Make sure that you fill the bowl up to 2/3 of the hot water near the brim. Stir the mix gently but thoroughly and then leave it for 20 seconds more to further reduce its edge. Drain the water from the ginger mix (do not rinse) and use plastic food gloves to squeeze the water further from the ginger slices, then transfer them into a Mason jar.
- Rinse and clean the saucepan that you used earlier and pre-heat it once more in order to mix the sugar, vinegar, and kelp and bring them to a boil. Stir a few times until the sugar is dissolved. Turn off the stove and transfer the vinegar mix into the jar where you’ve previously placed the ginger.
- Use a spoon or chopsticks to push down the ginger slices and submerge them in order to efficiently pickle them. Do not cover it yet as you allow it to cool. Once it reaches room temperature, then put the lid on and refrigerate. Depending on the ginger, it may be ready to eat in 1 to 3 days. The pickled ginger should last for about 6 months to a year.
Chinese Style Pickled Ginger
- 250g fresh ginger, thinly sliced
- 100g rock sugar
- 250ml white rice vinegar
- 1 tsp. salt
- Rinse the sliced ginger in cold running water and scrape off the dirty spots on its skin.
- Pre-heat a pot of water and bring to boil, then blanch the ginger slices in it for about 10 seconds. Drain the ginger slices in a sieve and dry them using a paper towel then transfer the ginger slices into a Mason jar.
- Pre-heat a small pot over medium heat and dissolve the rice vinegar and sugar. Add salt after 1 – 2 minutes and then turn off the stove and allow it to cool down for several minutes. Pour the vinegar mix into the Mason jar where the ginger slices are and make sure that they are all soaked well.
- Refrigerate the pickled ginger and wait at least 2 days before consuming it. It should last for about 6 months in the refrigerator before spoiling.
Sugar-free Sichuan Style Pickled Ginger
A lot of you also ask: How to make pickled ginger without rice vinegar or sugar?
This Sichuan style pickled ginger is the answer.
- 500g fresh ginger
- 6 fresh red peppers
- 800ml cold boiled water
- 2 tbsp. salt
- 1 tsp. whole Sichuan peppercorn
- Clean and rinse the ginger in the faucet, remove the dark spots, peel off its skin using a spoon and then thinly slice it at about 1/16th of an inch thick.
- Place the ginger in a pot of boiling water for 1 – 2 minutes in order to reduce its pungent taste. Drain the ginger slices in a strainer and place it in a jar or clean food container. Add the Sichuan peppercorn seeds and red pepper together with the ginger slices.
- Prepare purified water and dissolve salt in it. Pour the saltwater into the jar where you’ve placed the ginger in, close the lid and refrigerate.
Where can you buy pickled ginger?
I used to head out and look for Japanese shops that almost always have pickled ginger or the local Chinese market, those sometimes have it as well.
Now I regularly just order it online whenever I don’t want to make it myself for a quick addition to a dish I’m preparing.
My favorite brand right now is this Niitakaya Kizami Shoga:
5 Tips to Make Delicious Gari
- Use young ginger rhizomes if you want to make the best pickled ginger.
- Do not cut off the red pigment of the stem of the ginger root as this is necessary to have that beautiful soft pink color in the pickled ginger.
- Wash and scrub the rhizomes well (you don’t need to peel them always since young ginger root have thin skin).
- Thinly slice the ginger rhizomes preferably at about 1/16th of an inch thick, parboil, and then squeeze out the excess water.
- Pour the vinegar mix while it’s still hot and freshly cooked from the stove.
Top 5 Health Benefits of Pickled Ginger
- Pickled ginger contains gingerol, a naturally occurring chemical compound that has strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
- It can help treat many types of morning sickness or nausea.
- It can also reduce muscle pain and soreness (this is good for you gym rats).
- It has the ability to lower blood sugar levels and improves your overall cardiovascular system.
- Treats chronic indigestion. If you suffer from indigestion, eating more pickled ginger can help you overcome most of the issues you’re experiencing.
Does pickled ginger kill bacteria in sushi?
Actually, wasabi is used to kill the bacteria in sushi and you eat pickled ginger as a side dish to help improve digestion. Although it is said that the Shogaol that’s in ginger and gives it its strong taste, does kill bacteria as well.
Are you supposed to put ginger on the sushi?
A lot of readers asked how exactly you’re supposed to eat the ginger at a sushi restaurant. Because it’s served alongside the wasabi and soy sauce, some think you should put the pickled ginger on the sushi as well to enhance its flavor.
You shouldn’t put the ginger on top of your sushi. The flavors are not supposed to mix and the ginger is there to eat as a separate bite and improve digestion.