Botanical Name: Alpinia galanga
Common Names: Thai Ginger, Greater Galangal, Laos Root
Origin: Native to Java in Indonesia, but is now found throughout South East Asia, India, Bangladesh and China.
Description: Galangal is an attractive perennial herb that grows from a rhizome that’s quite similar to ginger. The long, narrow leaves are about 30 cm long and the plant will grow to about 1.2 m tall with small white flowers borne above the leaves.
I have two different varieties growing in my garden in the Lockyer Valley. The Red Galangal has rhizomes with deep red-brown skins that are white inside, and Monkey Puzzle has large white rhizomes. Plants are usually evergreen, but in cold areas the leaves may die back in winter and re-emerge in spring.
Cultivation: Galangal is a tropical and sub-tropical herbaceous perennial that grows best in under-storey or shaded positions in rich, free-draining, moist soil. It is both frost and drought tender, but the clump will usually re-shoot in spring if the damaged leaves are cut back after a cold winter. It’s also suitable to grow in a large pot which can be moved to a warmer spot in winter.
Harvesting of the edible rhizomes is best commenced in the second year after planting to allow the clump to establish. Small tender rhizomes can be “bandicooted” all year round as needed from under the soil at the sides of the plant. This will leave the rest of the clump to continue to grow. Alternatively, the whole plant can be lifted and harvested in autumn and a few of the healthiest rhizomes can be detached and replanted.
Propagation: Galangal grows from small rhizome setts planted 30 cm apart in spring. These can easily be divided from an existing clump or purchased from a nursery. Fresh galangal rhizomes can also be purchased from an Asian grocer and then cut into sections about 8 cm long, each with at least one green growing tip. The cut ends of these pieces should be allowed to dry for a couple of days and then planted horizontally about 10 cm deep.
Flavour Profile: Warming, pungent and peppery. The major flavour compound is Cineole.
Culinary Uses: The edible rhizomes have a fragrant, spicy, peppery taste (more like mustard than ginger) with hints of pine and citrus. Young rhizomes are tender and older ones are tougher and not easily cut or broken. Rhizomes can be used fresh, dried or ground into a powder, and the leaves, young shoots, flowers and buds are also edible.
In the kitchen, rhizomes can be stored in the refrigerator for a few weeks or peeled, sliced and stored in a sealed container in the freezer for several months. Rhizomes can also be sliced and dried and then ground into powder and dried slices can be used if first softened in water. However, for the best flavour rhizomes are best used fresh and peeled and grated or pound to a paste. Slices release their flavour more slowly and the subtle flavour compounds will evaporate when dried.
Galangal partners well with meat and chicken for rendang, marinades and soups, or with fish and shellfish for curry. It can also be grated to add to fruit smoothies or combined with lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, garlic and chilli to make a delicious dressing for green papaya or fruit salads. It heightens the flavours of other ingredients while also retraining its own distinctive character.
Popular in many Indonesian, Thai and Malaysian dishes, Galangal is a spice that provides a distinctive sharp, pungent, aromatic taste and is often used with lemon grass, shallots, garlic and chillies to make curries and soups.
Nutrition: Galangal is a good source of sodium, flavonoids, vitamins A and C, iron, potassium, manganese, copper, selenium, magnesium, and phytochemicals including Galangin. Research suggests that it contains anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Other Uses: The essential oil is used in perfumery and it has been used in traditional medicine to boost appetite.