Galangal vs ginger

galangal root photo

So today I’m going to talk about galangal which is an herb that is an absolute staple in any Thai home. Now I use this quite often but a lot of people seem to be confused by it. They have a lot of questions about it. So hopefully today we’re going to tackle all of that.

Galangal is the part that we use for cooking and is actually just the rhizome of the whole plant. The plant can grow really tall and we grow tons of it at my home in Thailand. A rhizome is actually a type of stem that grows underground from the roots. Looking closely you can see little dots which are the places where the roots used to be. When they harvest the plant they cut off all the roots and then they leave the pink tops on the rest of the plant where Galangal is known for its aroma. It has no taste, it’s not sweet, it’s not sour, it’s not salty, but it has a wonderful cooling aroma that reminds me very much of a pine forest.

Absolutely love it. You can call this slightly medicinal. I mean it’s like putting Vicks on your face and it’s refreshing… that’s kind of what it reminds me of. So you can use galangal in three major ways and the first way is to slice it up into thin rounds.

You then throw the thin slices into a soup or a broth and let it infuse. But in its fresh form it’s very hard. You can’t eat it. I recommend treating it like a cinnamon stick and letting it infuse for a few minutes then discarding it. Now if you want to eat it you can. But you have to chop it down pretty fine such as mincing it if you want to. You can throw it into salads add it into dips and whatnot.

Now what’s commonly done is to actually pound this into a paste such as a curry paste or put it in a sausage mix or put it in a stir fry or whatever and for that you just use a mortar and pestle.

So, it’s very versatile.

Some people like to say that oh we just use ginger. And I’m telling you people, just because they look kind of the same does not make them a substitute for one another. OK. I always say that sure go ahead and put ginger in it but just be prepared like you’re getting a very different flavor.

Ginger has a hot spice and it’s a different kind of aroma. So I don’t consider it a substitute. You’re basically just swapping it with a new ingredient. Right. However, if you can’t find fresh galangal there are other forms of it available.


Frozen galangal is probably your best bet because I find that with a frozen form it really retains a lot of its original characteristic.

There’s also galangal paste which sounds like it would be useful because in this form it just kind of mixes well into a lot of things.

And then there’s dried which will work well in soups. It’s gonna be harder if you need to pound it into a paste because dry galangal is super hard. I find that it does develop a bit of a different flavor once it’s dried.