Thai Ingwer aka Galangal

Thai Ingwer aka Galangal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What it is: Galangal (Alpina galanga) is a rhizome (underground stem), and close relative of its more recognizable cousin ginger. Though it is ubiquitous in Southeast Asian cuisine, and you’ve likely encountered its unusual flavor if you’ve ever dined on Thai, Cambodian, Indonesian or Malaysian food, it remains a bit of a mysterious oddity to most Americans. Interestingly, up until the 18th century, dried galangal was a fairly common ingredient in European cooking. I’m not sure what happened…

Galangal rhizomes have thin yellow skin interrupted by concentric brown rings and, occasionally pink shoots sprouting from the sides (remove these before cooking). Inside is firm white flesh that, you’ll find, is much harder to cut or grate than fresh ginger. I have heard the taste described as similar to ginger with a medicinal, mustardy, piney or floral overtone. Though it is camphorous smelling, that description doesn’t do its exotic flavor any justice.

Unlike ginger, I have not yet found it suitable as a flavoring for sweets (I’m working on it and will keep you posted), but it works magically in almost anything savory, especially marinades, soups, and curries.

Medicinal Uses: In the Chinese meteria medica, galangal is considered hot and acrid, with strong effects on the digestive system. It is considered especially useful for treating hiccups, belching, pain and nausea due to the over consumption of cold energy foods, such as an acute case of too much raw fish, ice water or salads. Because of this property, it makes a great balancing companion to any particularly cold energy food. While ginger has similar uses, galangal is considered hotter in energy, and much better for treating strong internal epigastric pain due to cold. And, like many strong smelling plants, it possesses antibacterial properties.

Buying/Storing/Cooking: Galangal is best bought fresh or frozen, rather than dry or powdered. Luckily, it is relatively easy to find at Asian and specialty food markets, as well as Wegmans and Whole Foods. Look for firm knobs with no dark patches of slimy skin. In most recipes, it will not be necessary to peel, but if there is any sign of rot, you will have to cut it off.

I like to buy more galangal than I need and slice and freeze the rest tightly wrapped in plastic. I have not found a difference in flavor doing this, but be sure to thaw before using. Otherwise, the rhizomes will last about 2 weeks in a closed paper bag in the refrigerator.


Galangal-lemongrass-lime leaf chicken noodle soup



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4 Comments on “Galangal”

  1. Huileno Essentiellea Says:

    In my country, Indonesia, galangal root is widely used for fried chicken ingredients and removing tinea versicolor, a kind of tropical skin disease. The essential oil form may be more practical, but I think it is not produced commercially yet..


    • theacupunc Says:

      That’s very interesting about using it to treat tinea. I hadn’t heard of that yet, but I will definitely keep it in mind- thanks so much for the tip!!



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