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What Is It?
The spicy and pungent tasting root-like rhizome from a member of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae), native to Southeast Asia.
Pungent/medicinal; reminiscent of pine and black pepper.
Thai Galangal, Blue Ginger, Thai Ginger, Galingale, Lengkuas (Indonesian), Kha (ข่า) (Thai)
Thai and well-stocked Asian grocery stores, online specialty distributors (note fresh vs. dried!)
Firm roots with bright, relatively unblemished skin. Slightly papery rings on the skin are normal, as are small round ‘eyes.’ Like ginger, galangal is a rhizome and is likely to have cut ends. These may be dried out a little, but shouldn’t be soft or mouldy.
Difficulty: Low – Prepared much the same way as ginger. The root may be peeled, though this isn’t always necessary. Note that galangal is considerably tougher than ginger, so use a sharp knife.
As with ginger, galangal is generally cooked in dishes, though it’s not always eaten itself. Slices/pieces will lend distinctive flavour to dishes, but are too woody to eat. It can also be pounded into a paste as part of a curry/spice paste, in which case it is eaten.
Short Term: Wrap in paper towel and refrigerate in an unsealed bag
Long Term: Slice and freeze
Pungent/Spiced – Galangal has a distinct and unique flavour, somewhat like a cross between pine needles and black pepper, with a slight sweetness.
Substituting for galangal is difficult. Frozen galangal is the best choice if fresh is unavailable. Dried galangal (which is shelf-stable) is the next best option.
Gingerserves a similar purpose in recipes, but does NOT have the same flavour profile (see “Need More Detail?” below).
Most prominent in Thai cooking, galangal is also used (often to a lesser degree) in other parts of Southeast Asia.
Best with typically Southeast Asian ingredients like lime, fish sauce, chilies, coconut, etc. Pairs well with a variety of meats and vegetables, though it can be a bit overwhelming if not used judiciously.
Greater galangal does not have any prominent culinary varieties, however it is worth differentiating from Lesser Galangal, Fingerroot, and Sand Ginger which are all also called galangal.
Moderately high in Vitamin C, though rarely used in large enough quantities to impact a dish much.
For a full nutritional profile, click Need More Detail? below
The rhizome is the only commonly available part in most markets, but the leaves can be used to add a similar (but milder) flavour to curries and sauces. The small red fruit has a flavour similar to cardamom, and is sometimes found at Chinese herbalists.
Health & Science
– Dried galangal was once a very important medicinal herb in much of Europe.
– Galangal contains the flavonol compound galangin, which has demonstrated a variety of beneficial properties.
Organic vs. Conventional
USDA organic galangal is grown in Hawaii, but is not commonly available. Information about pesticide use in conventional galangal is limited, but the plant is known for being naturally anti-microbial and insecticidal, and most likely does not require much treatment.