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What is Galanga Root?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 27 November 2014
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Galanga root is the edible root of the galanga plant. The root is widely used as seasoning in Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine, although it is probably most intimately associated with Thai food. As a result, some people call it Siamese ginger, in a reference to the former name of Thailand. Fresh galanga root is available in some Asian markets, as is a frozen version. It is also possible to find in it in dried or powdered form.

The formal title for the galanga plant is Alpinia officinarum, although the root is also known as galangal, galingale, iam kieu, kha, or gao liagn jiang. The word “galanga” is actually derived from an Arabic word, khalanjan, which means “Chinese ginger.” The plant has dark green spear shaped leaves which can get quite long, and flowers which strongly resemble irises. Some people actually grow galanga as an ornamental, since it is rather attractive.

The plants are native to Eastern Asia, and they prefer moist, very well drained soil. Galanga is also not at all frost tolerant, so it can only be grown in warm to temperate regions. Gardeners who want to try their hands at growing galanga at home should seek out a fresh, healthy looking root and plant it directly into well conditioned soil. Make sure to leave plenty of room, as a galanga plant can get quite large. When roots are desired, dig into the soil and separate them out.

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The plant is in the ginger family, so it comes as no surprise that galanga root strongly resembles ginger. There are a few differences, however. Galanga root is more white and creamy than ginger, and it also has a distinct peppery flavor which is more like mustard than ginger. While the two can be confused at first glance, galanga root has a very different flavor profile, and it is one of the things that makes Thai food so distinctive.

Most cooks work with greater galangal, a more rugged, hardy plant which is widely distributed. Lesser galangal is essentially limited to Southeast Asia, where it is used in specialty recipes. In either case, galanga root is used in varying amounts, and cooks who are just starting to work with it should begin with small portions. The flavor can be overwhelming and quite intense, especially for people who are unfamiliar with it. When a recipe calls for fresh galanga root, remember to crush or pound the root to soften it so that more of the flavor will emerge in the finished dish.

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anon134102
Post 4

I can't eat this spice. it causes severe diarrhea in some people usually within two hours with cramping. Not fun!

zenmaster
Post 3

@EarlyForest -- You're right, galanga root does have medicinal properties. Many use alpinia galanga, or greater galanga root, as a mild stimulant, and as an aphrodisiac. In some people, galanga root can cause mild hallucinations.

Known in Chinese as gao liang liang, alpinia galanga is known for helping balance the body by getting rid of "coldness" and "dampness", and is also used as an anti-spasmodic and antifungal.

It is also used to treat joint conditions and digestive conditions, since it stimulates bile production.

Alpinia galanga is also used in hoodoo magic, where it is often called Lo John. Galanga root is said to help with legal trouble and court cases, and is used ritually in hoodoo and other traditions for protection, success, and psychic development.

Additionally, some exorcism rituals include galanga root.

So there you have it -- galanga definitely has a number of medicinal and ritual uses -- though it's great as a flavoring too!

LittleMan
Post 2

Galanga root is great for cooking, but just be really careful if you're a first time user. This is a really spicy, hot root, so don't go into your cooking thinking that you're going to get that crystalized ginger taste.

Again, it's awesome for spicy Thai food (which is how most Thai food is supposed to be), but if you're sensitive to spice, then galanga root might not be the best choice for you. You should either buy ginger alpinia or another similar herb, and save your taste buds!

EarlyForest
Post 1

Does this herb have medicinal properties as well? I know that Chinese ginger is often used in herbal supplements, so I was wondering if galanga root served any of the same purposes as medicinal ginger, or if it is primarily used for cooking.

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