Galanga, also known as Galingale
At first glance the root-like object pictured above might be taken to be a section of fresh Ginger, but, in fact, it is completely different plant and is commonly known as Galanga, or by the rather prettier name ‘Galingale’. For many westerners, these names won’t mean much as it is not a commonly used ingredient in cuisines outside of the far East, but for those who enjoy Thai restaurants, or who purchase commercially prepared South-East Asian curry pastes, they will almost have certainly tasted this interesting spice at one time or another.
What is Galanga?
Galanga, or if you prefer, Galingale, is relative of the similar appearing Ginger that is native to Indonesia. Like Ginger, it is commonly, but mistakenly referred to as a ‘root’, but it is actually an underground plant stem known as a ‘Rhizome’, as, by the way, are the Lotus ‘Root’, and Turmeric. Although the catchall term Galanga is used, it can actually be one of four different but similar plants.
It is, of course, widely used in Indonesian cuisine (where the commonly used variety is known as ‘Lengkuas’), as well as in Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam. Other, less common, names for the spice are ‘Blue Ginger’, or ‘Galangal’ and you may see it referred to in some Chinese cookery books as ‘Sand Ginger’, although, strictly speaking, this refers to one single plant of the four major ones.
As you can see in the cut section of Galanga in the above picture, the interior of the rhizome has very much the appearance of fresh ginger, but the fibers are much denser and usually quite a bit harder to slice. The protuberances that grow from the body also leave some very hard pieces in the flesh and these will need to be cut away when using the rhizome in pastes or other preparations.
If you are fortunate enough to live close to an Asian market that stocks fresh produce, you may be able to buy the fresh rhizome as shown in the very first picture. Even then, it may only appear from time to time and, if unavailable to you, you should be able to find it on-line.
The rhizome is also available in dried, either in whole form, or else powdered, and the latter is often referred to, particularly in some cookery books, as ‘Laos Powder’. It is recommended, if buying the dried form, to choose the whole slices and grind them as needed as the commercially prepared powders lose their strength quite quickly and can sometimes be almost tasteless by the time of purchase.
What does Galanga, or Galingale, taste like?
The aroma of fresh galangal is quite a bit different from the taste and has an aromatically sweet quality with a very slight earthiness. It carries a scent that is a bit like a pungent, peppery kiwi fruit and there are faint notes of vanilla and dried lotus flowers. The taste, on the other hand is immediately rather like ginger but far more pungent and peppery with an echo of turpentine. After a moment, the ginger quality fades a little and the very floral, perfume-like quality that typifies the spice in cooked preparations asserts itself. When dried, the aroma is very much muted, but that unique aromatic perfume sweetness is more concentrated and stronger.
How is Galanga used?
The rhizome is widely used all across South-East Asia in the preparation of ‘Curry’ pastes, and is frequently paired with Lemongrass. Indeed, in many commercially prepared pastes, these two spices will be the dominant flavoring.
The picture above shows an opened can of the very excellent Maesri Panang Curry Paste which is very redolent with Galanga. If you follow the link, or click the picture, you will see my review of the product along with an example of a curry made with the paste and coconut milk. I also, have done similar treatments of Maesri Yellow Curry Paste and Maesri Green Curry Paste, both of which use Galingale as well.
If you enjoy eating in Thai restaurants, you are probably familiar with the perennial favorite Tom Yum Soup. The paste shown above is the commercially available Jack Hua Sour Shrimp Paste contains both Lemongrass and Galanga and can be used to make Tom Yum Soup at home. If you follow the link, or click the picture, however, you can also see a number of other dishes made using the paste.
The dish above is one of my own recipes for Red-Cooked Pork with Dried Octopus, which illustrates a Chinese cookery technique of braising meats in a soy-sauce based medium along with various aromatics. This particular recipe is a Sichuanese interpretation and uses slices of dried Galanga in the braising sauce.
The above is my own recipe for a ‘Galingale Curry Paste’ which uses Galanga along with Ginger and red chillies. It is not actually very South-East Asian in spirit as it also uses Cumin and Coriander and substitutes Lemon Peel for Lemon grass. [Link to be added shortly]