Why Is Pickled Ginger At Sushi Restaurants Pink?

Though not a lot of foods are naturally pink, many are dyed pink — like cotton candy or the shell and filling for macrons. Going from the gut, it's hard to tell whether the pale pink hue of the finely sliced pickled ginger that's typically served alongside sushi is its natural pigment or an added color. Known as gari in Japan, pickled ginger is traditionally served alongside sushi and bright green lumps of wasabi in restaurants and, these days, even in the grocery store. 

The reason those slivers of pickled ginger are served is to help cleanse your palette before eating different pieces of sushi in order to better taste and appreciate each kind of fish. If you are eating two types of sushi that have a similar taste, it is particularly crucial to consume a piece of pickled ginger in between them. This is because the ginger can help refresh your palate and make it easier to discern even subtle differences in the flavors of the fish varieties. But do not add a slice of pickled ginger to a piece of sushi as a topping, as it's considered a dining faux pas. The ginger's bright pink color will make such an experiment all the more obvious, anyway.  

Pretty in pink

While the exterior tips of ginger root have a pinkish color, as can be seen above, most of the ginger that's harvested has an off-white or yellow color. However, in the process of adding sugar and vinegar during pickling, the color pigment anthocyanin is activated in fresh ginger and turns it a pale pink. In this case, no artificial colors are involved. However, in an effort to better appeal to customers, producers of pickled ginger take the extra step of adding E124 cochineal red coloring or beet juice for a bolder look. 

If you're making gari at home and you want that classic pink hue, buy fresh ginger during the harvest season, which is early summer. In addition to the color, younger ginger will have a mild flavor and softer texture compared to older ginger, which is better for cooking. So, the next time you pick up a slice of pretty pink pickled ginger, know that its beautiful color may have gotten a little boost to make you admire it more.