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Food ingredient of the day – galangal


What in the hell is galangal?

Don’t worry – it’s not as weird as you think, but if you like Thai food and wonder why your homemade Pad Thai never tastes exactly like the Pad Thai at your favorite restaurant, this could very well be the reason. You’re probably using regular ginger for your dish. While that’s acceptable, you might want to see if you can get ahold of galangal, which is “Thai ginger”. It looks a lot like ginger, but it’s quite pink.

On the left is young galangal and on the right is old galangal (the kind you’re likely to find in the store if you can even find it).


It’s a species of the genus Alpinia, which includes the more common types of ginger. However, it’s got quite a different taste than ginger. It’s milder, without that very sharp “hot” flavor of ginger. It’s got a more citrusey overtone and it’s a little sweeter. The Thai name for it is Kha. The famous Tom Kha Gai literally means “Soup with galangal and chicken”. If you see Kha in a Thai recipe title, it means that you’re supposed to use galangal. Of course, you can always substitute ginger; it just won’t be as authentic tasting.


It’s not easy to find in many communities. You can even get dried Kha, but it’s not as effective. You should try to get the root whenever possible. The unused root can be frozen and used for a year (it will lose a little of its flavor over time, even when frozen).

You might find yourself using galangal in place of ginger in other recipes as well.

Galangal is your friend. Invite it over for a cooking session. You won’t regret it.

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