Galangal

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Galangal, Kha, Laos Root or Laos Powder is similar to ginger. Galangal can be substituted with fresh ginger root in many recipes, because fresh galangal is hard to come by. Galangal is used in South East Asian cuisine, especially Thai. Galangal is the "galangale" of mediaeval foods.

Like ginger, it's the rhizomes that are the source for galangal powder. Their rhizomes are knobbly, underground, root-bearing stems with a thin light brown skin that is marked with darker rings, while the inside is pale-yellow flesh similar to the look of a fresh ginger root. Younger shoots have a pinky colour. To harvest, the galangal rhizomes are simply lifted, cleaned and for dried galangal, dried, sliced then ground.

Galangal has a crisp and fibrous texture, but much less so than ginger. The aroma of galangal reminds you of ginger and pepper, with a sharp, nasal penetrating aroma with hints of lemon and a hot clean taste. Use galangal in moderation and never mix it with ginger in the same recipe. Galangal is more intense and flowery in flavour than ginger. Galangal's aroma really gets right to the back of your nose with a cleansing smell.

Galangal can be used in small amounts in soups, curries, grilling chicken or fish. Alternatively, add a pinch to minced beef, some onions and garlic without any tomato and very little liquid to create a flavoursome, dry loose meat dish. Wherever possible, use galangal fresh and chopping or grating it like ginger.

However, galangal really comes into its own in Thai cuisine, where they almost never use ginger. Galangal is crushed to make pastes, and to flavour key dishes like Tom Yam Goong Soup or in Tom Kha Kai, a chicken and coconut milk soup where galangal is the key flavour. Galangal powder is part of laksa spice, a Thai curry spice mix, and the Moroccan blend, ras el hanout.

Substitute: if you cannot get galangal, substitute it for a blend of 3:1 of cardamom to ginger.

Further reading

  • Hemphill, I., Hemphill, K. (2014) The Spice and Herb Bible, Robert Rose. ISBN: 9780778804932.
  • Norman, J. (2015) Herbs & Spices: The Cook's Reference, DK Publishing. ISBN: 9781465435989.