Warm and Spicy Galangal

Closely related to ginger and turmeric, galangal is the up-and-coming spice you need to know about.

If you’ve watched one of the cooking shows on TV, you’ve probably heard the word ‘galangal’ cropping up every now and again. A staple in Southeast Asian cuisine, it is becoming more and more popular globally and is also available locally. Because it is used so extensively in that region, it is sometimes called Thai ginger or Siamese ginger.

So, what is it? Galangal is a tuberous member of the Zingiberaceae family, which includes ginger and cardamom, and it is the root that is used for cooking. While a galangal tuber looks so similar to that of ginger that it’s hard to tell the difference, there are a few differences: the skin of galangal is smoother and lighter but the flesh is tougher. They also have a very different flavour profile: where ginger is all about sharp, peppery heat, galangal is more subtle with a citrusy flavour with a slight taste of pine and a bit of a bite.

Growing Galangal

Galangal plants like similar conditions to those preferred by ginger: deep, rich soil that has been improved with compost, partial shade and regular deep waterings. The plants grow fairly tall, to about 2m in height, and should be spaced 70cm apart.

Once your plants are established, they can be lifted in autumn or early winter when the leaves turn yellow. (Plants in tropical or subtropical areas might not die back but division should still take place in winter.) They can then be divided at this time for propagation purposes or for harvesting. For propagation, plant the tubers in bags or pots in compost-rich soil. Keep the soil moist but not wet, and place the bags in semi-shade out of wind for winter. New shoots should appear in spring, and the plants can be planted out into the garden or into large containers when they are growing strongly.

Health benefits

As with ginger, galangal is used heavily in Ayurvedic medicine (Indian alternative medicine), where it is prescribed for pain relief, as an anti-inflammatory, to increase energy levels, to lower cholesterol and for digestive issues – it can help with nausea, heartburn, motion sickness, morning sickness and an upset stomach. In addition, galangal is:

  • High in antioxidants;
  • Has antifungal properties;
  • Contains several active cancerfighting compounds;
  • Fights and prevents infections;
  • Strengthens the immune system;
  • Is good for the skin;
  • Benefits heart health;
  • Fights respiratory ailments.

READ MORE: Try this recipe for Tom Kha Gai, a Thai dish that uses galangal and coconut milk.

In the kitchen

Galangal is used in cooking to add a full, rich flavour to food, and is used particularly often in fish and chicken dishes. Like ginger, it is often mixed with onions, chillies and garlic to create the base of a dish, in particular curries and vegetable dishes such as soups, stews and stir-fries. It can also be thinly sliced and pickled, and then eaten with fish or cold meats or even salads.

A tea can also be made from galangal that is both warming and beneficial to your health. Pop a few slices of the root in a cup and cover with boiling water. Sweeten with honey if you’d like to and sip slowly. If you hold the tea in your mouth for a little while it will also cleanse your mouth of bacteria and germs and help to prevent mouth ulcers.

The Gardener