Galangal root, also known as blue ginger or Thai ginger, is the edible rhizome of the Galangal perennial tree. Galangal is known for adding exotic flavor to culinary dishes, and it's a popular herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Difference Between Greater and Lesser Galangal
According to the Reader's Digest Complete Illustrated Book of Herbs (RDCIBH), there are two distinct types of galangal root.
- Greater galangal is native to Java. This type has a spicy pine scent and peppery taste. It's often used in Asian cooking, especially Thai cooking. It can be used freshly sliced, dried or powdered, and it's often added as seasoning to hot and sour soups, fish dishes, or meat dishes.
- Lesser galangal, also known as resurrection lily, is native to Vietnam and China. This type is smaller than its counterpart and tastes much stronger. It is usually used medicinally.
How to Cook With Galangal Root
The galangal rhizome can be found fresh, dried, or in powdered form. Cooking the dried or powdered forms is pretty straightforward; however, cooking with fresh galangal can be challenging because of the herb's tough exterior.
Preparing Fresh Galangal
To prepare fresh galangal for cooking, Global Post recommends the following:
- Wash the root under running water to remove any attached dirt. Drain it and pat it dry.
- Peel off the top layer of skin and discard it.
- On a cutting board, slice the root into thin strips.
- Start by adding two strips of galangal to your dishes at the beginning of the cooking process to see how you like the taste. Be sure to remove the strips before serving.
If you plan to use galangal in a curry paste or if you need crushed galangal, chop it and place it in a spice grinder or food processor. Process for two minutes until it's coarsely ground.
Preparing Dried Galangal for Cooking
Dried galangal slices should be soaked for 30 minutes in hot water before using. This will make them softer and easier to work with.
Substituting Fresh Galangal Root for Ginger
Although fresh galangal root is similar in appearance to fresh ginger, they don't taste quite the same. People tend to perceive galangal's taste differently, but it's often described as piney or woodsy and spicier (hotter) than ginger. Some people also describe it as having a citrus-like taste.
In a pinch, ginger can be used as a substitute for galangal root in recipes, and vice versa, according to Fine Cooking. However, the flavor profile of the dish will be altered.
Medicinal Uses for Galangal
Before using galangal root to treat any medical condition, be sure to consult with your physician or natural health practitioner.
Uses in Chinese Medicine
Dr. Mao Shing Ni is a 38th generation doctor of Chinese medicine. He states on his website that lesser galangal is a warming herb in traditional Chinese medicine, and it's used for the following:
- Abdominal pain
As an Antihistamine
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMM), galangal root may have antihistamine properties, although there's no evidence it prevents anaphylaxis shock, a life threatening emergency. They recommend taking 2 - 4 grams of galangal root per day in capsule or tea forms for antihistamine relief.
As an Antibacterial Agent
An abstract published in Pharmacognosy Journal supports further investigation into the herb's healing abilities. Research found that galangal rhizomes had antibacterial abilities against Staphylococcus aureus, Micrococcus luteus, and Bacillus cereus.
As an Antifungal, Anti-Cancer Agent
Drugs.com mentions galangal has antifungal properties, and it shows anti-tumor activity in mice. The site also mentions that there are currently no clinical studies to develop dosing recommendations for galangal for specific medical conditions. However, 1 gram of the rhizome is recommended for gastrointestinal distress.
Side Effects and Interactions
WebMD states that galangal is safe for most adults to use and there are no known side effects. However, the site also warns that women who are pregnant or breast feeding should not use galangal since not enough is known about its safety regarding those conditions.
Avoid galangal if you already take:
- Antacids, such as Tums or Rolaids
- H-2 blockers, such as Zantac or Pepcid, to reduce stomach acid
- Proton pump inhibitors, such as Prilosec, Nexium or Protonix, to reduce stomach acid
Mystical Properties of Galangal
In the Middle Ages, lesser galangal was used as an aphrodisiac. It's believed to balance yin and yang and create a pleasant environment.
RDCIBH reports that in the United States, galangal root was chewed like chewing tobacco. Known as "Chewing John," it was chewed to calm the stomach and also to create good luck. It was believed that if you spit galangal juice on the floor of a courtroom before a judge arrived, you'd win the case.
Sources for Galangal
Galangal is available in several forms, including fresh, dried, powdered, or in capsules. For cooking or medicinal use, your local Asian or natural food store is your best bet for finding this herb.
You can also purchase it online at the following sites.
- Mountain Rose Herbs offers dried and powdered galangal in four-ounce, eight-ounce, and one-pound packages. Prices range from $3.00 to $10.00 plus shipping.
- Starwest Botanicals sells organic, dried galangal in a four-ounce package for $5.83 and a one-pound package for $19.08 plus shipping.
- You can buy fresh galangal root that is grown in the USA from ImportFood.com. One pound of the root costs $17.95, which includes shipping.
A Spicy Wonder
If you love Thai food, you may already be familiar with the distinctive, spicy taste of galangal root. While this root is not as popular as ginger in the US, it's gaining popularity for its culinary and medicinal benefits. As research continues and galangal becomes better known, this spicy wonder is sure to earn respect from chefs and people seeking natural remedies.