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What is Galangal?

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  • Last Modified Date: 25 August 2016
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Galangal is a ginger relative which has a very distinctive spicy, citrusy, flowery flavor. It is used in cuisines across Southeast Asia, in places like Thailand, Indonesia, and Laos, and some people consider it a cornerstone of Southeast Asian cuisine. Many Asian markets carry galangal in at least one form, and some major supermarkets may stock it as well, especially if they are located in an area where there is a large Southeast Asian population.

Superficially, galangal roots, the part of the plant used in cooking, look a great deal like ginger. They have a pale tan skin with a white to creamy, crunchy interior. The fresh spice is often used in thin slices, and it can also be cut into smaller segments. Dried galangal may be sold in the form of whole slices or a powder for flavoring. The flavors of the fresh and dried versions of the spice are different, with dried versions tending to taste sharper and sometimes becoming acrid if they are not stored under the proper conditions.

Greater galangal is the most widely used form of this spice. It is native to Java, and it has a slightly spicy flavor which is reminiscent of ginger, but slightly more peppery. Lesser galangal, native to China, is much hotter, and has orangish flesh which makes it easy to identify. This type can be difficult to obtain outside of Asia, except through specialty stores.

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A fresh mix of galangal and lime is sometimes used as a refreshing and thirst quenching drink. Galangal is also popularly added to soups and curries across Southeast Asia, and it can be used to create flavored oils as well. When galangal is available fresh, it should be wrapped and stored under refrigeration when not in use. Some Asian markets sell a frozen version, giving people the flavor of the fresh spice when fresh roots are not available. Dried versions should be stored in a cool dry place and used within one year.

If a recipe calls for galangal and it is simply not available, cooks can use fresh ginger and a squirt of lime juice as a replacement. Although this will not precisely replicate the desired flavor, it can come rather close. Cooks who have difficulty finding the spice in their neighborhoods and want to experiment with it may want to consider a mail order service which sells dried spices through a catalog.

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bear78
Post 5

@fify-- You can make curry with it too. I make seafood curry which has galangal but I don't put any in myself, the curry paste I buy already has galangal in it.

Some international stores also carry curry sauces that come with galangal and other spices in it. Those are even easier to cook with because you don't have to add water, you just add the ingredients and the sauce.

Since you have fresh galangal, I suppose you would want to make food from scratch unlike me. I'm sure it will be even better. I can taste the galangal in these curry pastes and sauces, but of course, it's never the same as fresh.

Oh and that chai with galangal sounds really good! I think you could replace ginger pickle with galangal pickle for sushi but I have no idea how the pickle is made.

ddljohn
Post 4

@fify-- There is a great coconut chicken soup recipe that has galangal in it. My friend made it for dinner one time. I actually don't like coconut milk very much but this soup was really good and I think the galangal had a lot to do with it.

The spice of galangal was really perfect with the chicken and coconut. It was slightly sweet and slightly spicy. If you can find all the ingredients, you can make it at home. A lot of Thai restaurants will have it too, just ask for Thai coconut soup.

fify
Post 3

I love ginger. I use it in many dishes and also for making chai. Ginger is a must have for me as a side to sushi and I love making Southeast Asian chai tea with lots of ginger and milk.

I was at the Asian grocery store last week and saw fresh galangal there. It looked very much like ginger but it was larger in size and the skin looked a little different when I paid attention. I couldn't really tell what it smelled like without cutting it but I figured that it was a relative of ginger and picked some up.

I just realized today that it's been sitting in my fridge and I want to cook

with it. I cut it to see the smell and taste and I agree with the article that it reminds of ginger but is a bit more peppery.

I'm definitely going to try making chai with it because many chai recipes actually also call for black pepper that I usually leave out. I think galangal might be a nice replacement to ginger and black pepper in chai.

What else should I make with galangal? Will it be good with sushi? Can you recommend a soup that's good with galangal?

Catapult
Post 2

You can also use galangal homeopathically the way you can use ginger. It helps for things like stomach problems, congestion, and even bad breath. Some people think ginger is too strong a taste, and might want to try galangal instead.

widget2010
Post 1

Awhile ago I went to a Thai restaurant and tasted something really unusual; when I asked, they said it was galangal! It doesn't really taste like ginger, but it has its own specific bite.

I really love root spices like this, as well as ginger and sassafras root. They add such an interesting punch to food and drink.

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