With its confusingly similar name, galangal may seem like just another form of ginger. But what does galangal taste like and how does it differ from ginger?
Galangal has a citrusy, piney pepperiness unmatched by ginger. The tough root requires careful prep but provides incredible herbal aroma to Thai curries, soups, and more.
In this article, we’ll break down galangal’s signature flavors, common uses, preparation tips, and substitutes. We’ll also discuss how it differs from ginger so you can better understand this underutilized Southeast Asian spice.
Table of Contents
Overview of Galangal
Here’s a quick look at what galangal is:
- Galangal is a root spice belonging to the same plant family as ginger. It grows mostly in Southeast Asia.
- With its tough, woodsy texture and citrusy flavor, it provides a peppery kick unlike ginger.
- Two main varieties used are Greater galangal and Chegalangal, with very similar flavors.
- Galangal plays a key role in the cuisines of Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries.
- It’s used fresh or dried for its intense citrusy aroma in curries, soups, marinades, and stir fries.
So in essence, galangal is like a tougher, more citrusy ginger with its own unique place in savory Asian dishes. But describing its exact flavor requires more detail.
What Does Galangal Taste Like?
When used in cooking, galangal offers these flavor notes:
- Citrusy – Bright, sour lime-like taste with astringent edge.
- Piney – Fresh, woody aroma like a pine forest.
- Peppery – Gives a spicy kick and heat similar to black pepper.
- Earthy – Musty, rhizomic flavor like ginger but sharper.
- Herbaceous – Slightly grassy and medicinal on the finish.
So the predominant taste is sour citrus coupled with an intense pine-like aroma. The spicy, peppery undertones give it a serious flavor punch.
Galangal Versus Ginger
Galangal differs from familiar ginger in several ways:
- Appearance – Galangal is paler white/cream colored vs. ginger’s tan color.
- Texture – It has a super tough, woody texture while ginger is softer.
- Flavor – Galangal offers citrusy kick versus ginger’s warming heat.
- Aroma – Piney forest-like smell compared to ginger’s bright lemony scent.
- Origin – Most galangal is grown in Asia while ginger grows globally.
So at a glance, galangal appears like a tougher, paler version of ginger. But once tasted, the sharper citrus flavor stands apart.
How to Prepare and Cook With Galangal
To use galangal:
- Cut off any dry, tough ends and peel the root. The skin is inedible when raw.
- Slice paper thin or mince very finely. Galangal is too tough and fibrous to grate like ginger.
- Before frying, soak sliced galangal briefly in water – this helps mellow its peppery bite.
- Use immediately for best flavor or store wrapped tightly for 1-2 weeks at most.
- Simmer in curries, stir fries and soups. Remove pieces before serving if too fibrous.
Though labour intensive to cut and prep, galangal rewards with immense herbal aroma when cooked skillfully.
Dishes and Cuisines Using Galangal
Galangal is common in these savory Asian dishes:
- Thai curries – Green, red, masaman all use galangal.
- Tom yum soup – Essential for the sour, spicy Thai broth.
- Laksa – Used in Malaysian and Indonesian spicy coconut noodle soup.
- Nasi goreng – Added to Indonesian fried rice.
- Rendang – Features in this caramelized Indonesian beef stew.
- Vietnamese pho – Sometimes used in beef noodle soup broth.
With its strong flavor, galangal is best paired with boldly flavored sauces, curries, and soups that allow it to shine.
Tips for Buying and Storing Galangal
When shopping for galangal:
- Choose roots that are very firm with smooth, unwrinkled skin. Avoid mushy spots.
- Opt for heavier pieces which indicate higher water content and fresher flavor.
- Clean any dried dirt but don’t peel until ready to use.
- Wrap loosely in plastic and store for up to 2 weeks in the crisper drawer.
- You can also freeze peeled, sliced galangal for several months.
Seeking out fresh, firm galangal roots helps ensure you’ll get the full potency of flavor.
What Can Be Used As a Galangal Substitute?
In a pinch, these make decent galangal stand-ins:
- Fresh ginger + lime juice – Approximates the peppery citrus taste well.
- Dried galangal powder – Lacks the resinous pine notes but contains citrusy flavors.
- Fingerroot – A close relative with similar citrusy components.
- Lemongrass – Provides citrus flavor but not the spice.
- Kaffir lime leaves – Offer intense lime essence when added to dishes.
While not perfect, spiking fresh ginger with citrus or using dried galangal powder gives the closest approximation.
Key Takeaways – What Does Galangal Taste Like
- Galangal has a dominant citrusy, pine-like aroma and flavor coupled with spicy peppery notes.
- It has a super tough, fibrous texture requiring extra prep like chopping very fine or long cooking times.
- Galangal is indispensable in Southeast Asian cuisines, especially Thai curries, soups, and noodle dishes.
- When shopping, look for very firm, heavier roots without wrinkles or mushy spots.
- For substitutions, spice up ginger with lime juice or use dried galangal powder.
Understanding galangal’s intense citrusy profile helps you incorporate this powerfully flavored root into Thai and other Asian dishes authentically. Happy cooking!