“Thai ginger”—that’s the quickest and best way to describe the complex and unusual galangal root, but it’s not quite the whole story. They are in the same family and look similar, both with knobby, whitish-yellow roots with pink tips. Galangal, however, flowers like an orchid and has a flavor completely its own — earthy, piney, and citrusy notes that ordinary ginger just doesn’t have.
And that’s what makes it special.
A member of the Zingiberaceae family, galangal is an Asian spice that’s been used for centuries for healing and culinary purposes. You’ve probably encountered it if you’ve ever enjoyed authentic Thai cooking, especially in the creamy tang of Tom Kha Gai, a coconut-milk based chicken soup spiked with lime leaves and galangal. Fans of Indonesian, Thai, and Malaysian food know its unmistakable flavor and swear there’s no real substitute.
Healing Properties of Galangal
Galangal has been used for centuries in both Asian and European medicine. In Europe, it was prized as an aphrodisiac, because as a stimulant it caused the body to go into energetic overdrive for a short period of time.
As an anti-inflammatory, galangal is often used in teas to treat infections, inflammation, and certain types of cancer.
Like its relative turmeric and ginger, galangal root is rich in antioxidants called polyphenols, which are linked to improving memory and lowering blood sugar and LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol. Polyphenols are also believed to help reduce the risk of mental decline, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
One of the most delicious ways to make the most of its healing properties is with a quick and easy recipe for galangal and lemongrass tea like this one.
How to Cook with Galangal
To infuse galangal flavor into a soup or tea, wash and then slice the root with the peel on, and add several slices to taste.
For use in curries, wash, peel, chop, and then grind the root into the curry paste.
Fresh galangal isn’t always easy to find, so it’s okay to use dried—just soak it for 20 to 30 minutes in warm water before using. Store any unused root wrapped loosely in plastic and refrigerate for up to a week.
Tom Kha Gai: This Thai chicken soup with coconut milk and vegetables is the ultimate bowl of comfort, with tangy flavors and a rich and creamy texture.
Beef Rendang: This spicy, rich, creamy Malaysian stew is a beautiful showcase for galangal’s earthy and citrusy flavors.