You went to the supermarket and ended up buying some quite strange pink ginger roots? Were you wondering why there was a strange pink ginger slice in that Japanese restaurant you went to last time? What is the deal with pink ginger?
The pink-purple color in ginger can be caused by:
- Age: very young ginger roots present pink hue
- Pickling: enhance purple color due to chemical reactions
- Dyeing: artificial purple colorant used in the food industry
- Type: an uncommon type of ginger is deep purple
Hence, what is the difference between those types of pink gingers? Can you turn common yellow ginger into pink by yourself? Does dyeing make the ginger taste different? And finally, do you know about black and blue ginger? If not, let’s dive in!
The reason that makes your ginger pink/purple is strongly related to the development stage of the ginger root. Is it raw in a supermarket aisle, or it is a “ready-to-eat” slice of ginger that, hence, it has been treated beforehand?
Although you might not even notice, it is not that uncommon to find in the supermarket a few pink ginger roots. These roots look quite different from the others. They are white or pale yellow with very vivid pink (close to purple) shoots at the extremity and smaller.
Every young ginger root gets a pink/purple hue.
This color tends to fade over time to be then replaced with the common orange one you are so familiar with. Hence, every pink ginger root, if left in the ground long enough, would have eventually turned orange.
Harvest time matters
To have pink ginger roots, you just need to harvest them only a few months after sprouting. This is way earlier than the 7 months (or more) required to have the most common (and developed) brown counterpart.
The flavor of young ping ginger roots
Young ginger roots have a way more delicate flavor than their pungent orange counterpart. They are also way more tender and fleshy.
Pickling or marination is a process widely adopted in Japanese culture to color and enhance the flavor of fresh ginger. I discovered it by accident in a Japanese restaurant a few years back when a sushi plate came with such “strange” ginger on the side. As the owner of that restaurant explained to me, that is “gari” (or simply ginger pickled), one of the most famous sushi condiments. Believe me, it is extremely tasty!
Pickled ginger takes its pink hue from a chemical reaction between anthocyanins and the acidic vinegar, as discussed in this study. This is totally safe and makes ginger even tastier for consumption.
Anthocyanins are quite famous because they give a purple color to a large variety of fruits and berries (blueberries, eggplant, black rice, etc…). This organic chemical is well studied for its correlation with numerous health benefits.
Pickled ginger gets pink only if the roots used are young. Indeed, young roots present (in their outer layer mainly) a way higher content of anthocyanins than its older itself. However, if you pickle common ginger, with way fewer anthocyanins, the result will be white ginger. This is also discussed in this University study.
Well, suppose that you managed to put your hands on a few tasty and young ginger roots. Then, what do you need? Well, just 100ml of vinegar and water, a bit of oil, sugar, salt, and you are ready to go!
Check the video below for a good (and a bit hilarious) recipe.
Remember that the pickled ginger typical hue does not last forever! Indeed, if not used after a few months, the color will fade away naturally. Nothing to worry about as this is totally normal. The light and heat cause that.
Tip: keep your naturally pickled ginger in a cold and dry place if you do not want to get it brown too quickly. Place in the fridge at 2C, and it can stay there up to a year.
Dyeing is the process of adding artificial or organic substances to change the color of an edible product. Dyeing is not used on fresh ginger roots, but on cooked ones.
More precisely, dyeing is adopted to artificially produce in pickled ginger that inviting purple hue. This is necessary in case the pickled ginger is prepared with the common and older orange ginger roots. Indeed, due to their very low content of anthocyanins (only a third of their younger counterparts), the pickling process does not release the famous pink color.
The dyeing process is very simple and should be applied only when the pickled process is over. Essentially, after the ginger is ready, you should leave the colorant submerged with the ginger and the liquid from the pickling process for about a week. Remember to mix the content at least once a day.
One of the best organic colorants is the purple shiso leaves. Curious for more? Check the video below.
My last takeaway!
The fact that the ginger has been obtained through a natural pickling process does not always mean that it is colorant-free. Indeed, even naturally pink pickled ginger might (very likely) have been dyed. This is to keep its pink color for a longer time (as the natural coloring fades away, as mentioned earlier).
To spot if the ginger presents some dyeing, check the label. One of the most common is sodium metabisulphite. As discussed here, this is a very common food preservative that prevents (for a long time) your ginger from changing color leaving.
Although you might see ginger as “just” the tasty root of a plant, the reality tells us that there are hundreds of ginger. For some of them you can enjoy not only the roots but also flowers and stems!.
One of the varieties that struck me the most is the Kaempferia Parviflora, well-known as “Thai Black Ginger” or “Thai Ginseng”. It is not commonly found in fresh roots in supermarkets or any grocery store in the EU and the USA.
The most impressive feature, if you have the chance to have one of the fresh roots on your hands, is the deep purple, almost black, when cut, despite its common pale orange outer layer.
It is commonly found raw in Thailand, Malaysia market and other East Asia countries while in the Western world is often imported dry or as the main ingredient in a handful of expensive health-related products due to its properties (still under research) such as vasodilator, fat burn, memory enhancement, and anti-inflammatory. For more check out this study and this one and the video below.
What does it taste like?
Black ginger tastes differently from regular ginger. Its taste is way more earthy than the common orange version you find at the supermarket. As far as I am aware, it is not used in any EU and USA dishes. The only use is for tea.
Although not purple, it might happen to find ginger, with some suspicious pale blue vein or ring inside it.
What are they? Something to worry about?
There are three reasons that can explain a blue color in your ginger:
- A particular variety of ginger with blue rings
- A special variety of totally blue ginger
- Storage conditions
Blue rings are a common feature of the Chinese white ginger variety (also called blue-ring ginger for this reason). Hence, what you have just sliced is totally safe ginger root, just a variety not very common around.
You need to know that there is also a rare variety of ginger known as blue ginger (or Bubba Baba Ginger from his creator). Not much reliable information on this ginger variety is available if not for the fact that it has been obtained by selection of Indian ginger over the course of around a decade.
A few types of ginger with a slightly acidic level tend to become blue if stored in a cold place due for long. This is due to a natural and totally safe, reaction that happens within the ginger when some of the anthocyanin it contains decays over time. This reaction only happens for those varieties of ginger with a sufficiently large amount of anthocyanin (like Hawaiian varieties or very young ginger roots).
The same anthocyanin reaction in a slightly acidic environment also explains why garlic also tends over time to get blue/green hue.
This type of blue ginger has been claimed to have a way milder and less pungent flavor despite the fact of being totally safe for consumption.
How long does pickled ginger last? Pickled ginger, if stored in a cold, dark, and dry place, can be safely stored up to a year. However, if such conditions are not met, consumption is advised within 6 months.
How do you know if pickled ginger is still good? The presence of an unpleasant smell more than its physical appearance is the major indicator of pickled ginger that has gone bad.
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