Galangal (Alpinia species)
Galangal is a rhizome which comes in two main types: greater galangal (Alpinia galangal) and lesser galangal (Alpinia officinarum).
Lesser galangal has a stronger taste, described as a mix between ginger and pepper. Greater galangal’s flavor is pungent with a lemon-like sour taste which is described as a mix between ginger and cardamom. In general galangal’s flavor is spicy, but not as hot as ginger.
Greater galangal has a gingery pine-like aroma while lesser galangal is more aromatic and pungent with hints of eucalyptus.
Both types of galangal rhizomes are used freshly cut, dried or ground and is used in very similar ways to ginger. Galangal is an essential ingredient in Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian curries, sambals, satays, soups and sauces. Powdered galangal is also used in Middle Eastern and Moroccan spice blends. Galangal is often combined with onion, garlic, chili and ginger to make spice pastes and it loves chicken, fish, coconut milk, lemon juice and seafood. Pair with chili, fennel, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, kaffir lime and shallots.
Greater galangal is native to Java and lesser galangal is native to southern China while both are cultivated now days throughout Southeast Asia, Indonesia and India. The plant grows best in warm to tropical climates. Galangal plants are started by rhizome and thick stems shoot directly from these roots. Wide leaves stand upright with greater galangal growing to 6 feet and lesser galangal only growing to half the height (hence the name). Once mature, the rhizomes are removed from the ground, cleaned and processed in a similar way to turmeric or ginger. Lesser galangal rhizomes are smaller than greater galangal.
Galangal traveled throughout Europe by the Middle Ages and was used as a spice, medicine and aphrodisiac. The famous herbalist, St. Hildegard of Bingen, described galangal as ‘the spice of life’ as it was one of her favorite remedies to treat indigestion, deafness, arthritis and heart disease.
Throughout history, herbalists have claimed that galangal can assist in the remedy of seasickness, ulcers, stomach upsets, rheumatism, poor circulation and bad breath.
Facts about Galangal
Galangal is delicious in tea. Add several slices of fresh galangal to a blend herbal tea for fragrance and flavor.
How do I store galangal?
Store fresh galangal rhizomes wrapped in paper and store in the fridge for two weeks. It can also be frozen. Dried or ground galangal is best stored in airtight containers.
What is kaempferia galangal?
Kaempferia galangal is another form which is quite different in appearance to lesser and greater galangal. It looks like a hand of pointy fingers. Kaempferia galangal is only available in specialist shops.