Galangal is one of four rhizomes in the Zingiberacae (ginger) family. The root herb was first cultivated in China and flourished in the Eastern Himalayas. It was introduced to Europe during the 9th century and was widely used for medicinal purposes.
It quickly spread throughout South-East Asia via trade routes and became a staple ingredient for many cuisines within the region.
Galangal is prevalent in India, China, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia as well as the South Pacific. In Australia, galangal is mostly grown in Queensland, but is produced as far south as Victoria.
Growth and harvest
The root is considered a perennial plant that prefers warm tropical climates. Crops are usually planted by setts (small roots) in the spring to avoid frosty conditions. Setts can be planted on ridges in rich, moist soil at a depth of 10–15cm and at least 30cm apart.
Galangal plants can grow 1m to 2m in height and have long, slender, blade-shaped leaves that reach up to 35cm long. Flowers bloom at the top of the plant and are mostly white in colour with thin streaks of red. Rhizomes can be harvested at any
time of the year and are typically dug up carefully with a spade or a shovel. It is
recommended rhizomes are harvested and removed as required.
Appearance and flavour profile
Galangal bares resemblance to ginger in shape and texture, but is considered a separate root herb and has its own unique characteristics. Rhizomes have tough, dark red to brown skin with a mostly white interior and are generally hard to break.
Galangal rhizomes can vary in size and have a cylindrical branch-like appearance with bulbous knobs. Galangal is spicy, peppery and tart and is comparable to ginger when it comes to flavour profile. It’s described as citrusy and piney with an underlying heat. Some varieties of fresh galangal exude a strong, sour, menthol taste when used in cooking.
The root should be peeled before use. The flesh can be sliced, bruised, minced or grated depending on the recipe, but it can also be turned into a powder or a paste. Galangal is an essential ingredient in South-East Asian cookery and is mainly used in marinades, curries, stir fries and soups.
The root is commonly accompanied by lemongrass and is a key ingredient in tom yum soup in Thailand. Galangal is also heavily used in Malaysia and Indonesia in dishes such as sambal, laksa, satay and beef rendang.