August 9, 2022

Know Your Spices: Galangal

Galangal is a Zingiberaceae (ginger family) spice. It also includes turmeric and ginger. It is a rhizome, an underground stem that expels roots and shoots from the plants’ nodes. Galangal comes in many different forms, with different uses and flavors.

Galangal is a key ingredient in many Asian cuisines. This includes Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Chinese, Thai and Indonesian. Tom yum, tom Kha gai and Soto Ayam are two popular uses for the ingredient. These soups are traditional Indonesian chicken soups. Galangal can also be used to make tea by steeping it in water.


Origin – Part of the Zingiberaceae family (ginger), which also includes turmeric and ginger

Commonly found: Cambodian and Vietnamese cuisines

Variety: The greater galangal is native to Indonesia, and the lesser galangal is native to Southern China. You can find it in fresh and dehydrated forms.

Galangal vs Ginger

Even though they are part of the same family, galangal root and ginger have significant differences in appearance, taste, and texture. When young, galangal root is usually smoother and paler than ginger. Galangal root has a strong taste but is milder than ginger. Some varieties also have a minty, camphor-like smell and flavor.

Ginger, on the other hand, is spicy and peppery.

Galangal is hardy, fibrous and woody, so cooks often throw it out before they serve.

Galangal has many varieties.

Galangal can be divided into two types: greater or lesser.

The Indonesian greater galangal is used more often in Thai soups and curries. It has a piney, peppery flavor. The lesser galangal is a native of Southern China. It’s used in herbal medicine in India and China.

When younger, the greater galangal has a pale appearance and pink nubs. The color of lesser galangal is deeper with orange undertones.

Whole vs Ground Galangal

Galangal can be purchased in fresh or dehydrated form. Galangal can be dried or dehydrated in various forms, including chips, slices, and powder. Galangal paste may be available in specialty Asian grocery shops.

You can substitute 12 teaspoons of dried galangal in a recipe that calls for fresh galangal. You may have to adjust the ratio depending on what type of ground galangal you have.

Galangal: Where can I buy it?

Fresh galangal can be purchased at specialty Asian grocery shops or Amazon. Kalustyan’s, a New York City spice shop, offers to ship to the USA and Canada.

Keep in mind the age and condition of fresh galangal when buying it. Older roots will feel harder and have a paler color. The older roots have a different taste than the younger ones so that a recipe might call for either one. Frozen galangal is available in some stores, which can be used as a substitute for fresh.

How to store galangal

Fresh galangal can be stored in a plastic bag with a paper towel-lined inside. It can be kept in the fridge for up to 3 weeks. You can also cut the root into small pieces and freeze it in an airtight container or plastic bag for up to two months.

Galangal powder should be kept dry and cool. Ground galangal powder can be kept in an airtight container for six months to one year in your pantry.

Galangal Substitutes

There is not a perfect substitute for galangal. The spice is more spicy than ginger and has a lower citrus content. Most Southeast Asian chefs believe there is no substitute. You can substitute galangal with ginger, but the flavor will be very different.

Galangal powdered, frozen, or dehydrated is the best substitute for fresh.

Powdered galangal should not be used as a substitute for fresh galangal in soups as it can cause a muddy texture. Use the powdered version in baked goods or curries.

Galangal: How to Prepare and Cook

There are several ways to prepare galangal for cooking.

  1. Slice the root thinly and let it steep in soup liquid. The roots are too hard to eat so that you can discard them.
  2. Use finely minced galangal in salad dressings or to make a dressing. A finer mince is also edible.
  3. Use galangal alone or add herbs and spices to make a paste.