What is the difference between ginger and galangal?

Ever wondered how to use galangal vs. ginger in your cooking? Well, you are not the only one. These two spices have a lot of similarities, but are in fact different.

Ginger and galangal have similar appearances and it might take a moment to notice the difference between them.

Ginger and galangal are rhizomes and belong to the same family called Zingiberaceae, or simply the ginger family.

If you have ever confused these two, then you are not alone. Many plants have a look-alike, such as how mint looks like coriander, bananas looks like plantains, etc.

Ingredients for thai food includes lemon grass, ginger, galangal, finger root, and turmeric

The Zingiberaceae family contains several spices, such as ginger and turmeric, that are similar in appearance but wildly different in flavor.

Therefore, although they are all similar in appearance, it does not mean they can be used for the same purposes, and they have different benefits.

Ginger and galangal are popular ingredients that have been used for thousands of years to add flavors to our food. Both have their own distinct flavor, and one cannot be used as a substitute for the other.

This article includes a brief description of ginger and galangal and the similarities and differences between ginger and galangal. Keep reading so you can recognize the ginger from galangal or vice versa at a glance.

What is ginger?

Ginger is a flowering plant that belongs to the Zingiberaceae family, along with turmeric, cardamom, and galangal.

whole and sliced ginger rhizome on white background

Technically speaking, ginger is a plant, but in cooking terms, you will always use the rhizomes (roots) of the ginger plant.

You can find ginger in many forms and varieties. It can be used as fresh ginger, powdered ginger, candied ginger, pickled ginger, etc.

You can use ginger in the following recipes:

Also see how to grow ginger and the benefits of ginger for your skin!

What is galangal?

Galangal is also a rhizome and belongs to the same plant family as ginger. It is so similar in appearance to ginger that it is referred to as “Thai ginger” or “Siamese ginger.”

Galangal is usually used as a cooking ingredient, and it is mostly used in Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, and Malaysia.

pink galangal rhizomes close up

You can find galangal in three different varieties: greater, lesser, and light. All these varieties of galangal can be used interchangeably, but you will need to adjust their quantities to get the right flavor you are looking for.

Greater galangal has a mild flavor, lesser galangal tastes more peppery, and light galangal has a taste that is a bit like the taste of ginger.

Apart from culinary uses, galangal has also been long used in Ayurvedic medicine and Thai and Chinese herbal medicine.

Galangal vs. ginger

Many similarities that exist between ginger and galangal make it hard to distinguish them from each other. But you can recognize ginger and galangal in many ways.

It is important to know these differences to use the right ingredient in the recipe to get a good outcome.

1.  Taste

The difference in taste can be considered the most significant difference between ginger and galangal. Ginger has a sharp citrusy, kind of piney, and slightly peppery sweet and earthy flavor, which can be used in sweet dishes.

On the other hand, galangal’s taste is much fresher, more intense, and sharper than the taste of ginger. Unlike ginger, galangals lack sweetness in their taste. This is the reason you cannot use these ingredients interchangeably.

2.  Appearance

Although ginger and galangal are pretty similar in appearance, and as they belong to the same family and have a similar irregular shape, subtle differences in their texture and hardness can help you tell them apart.

Ginger has a darker color and a soft flesh that can be easily grated. Galangal, on the other, has a lighter color and a much harder flesh. The skin of the galangal is also smoother than the ginger’s skin.

ginger and galangal in a market

3.  Culinary uses

Ginger is a popular cooking ingredient used worldwide and is known for its versatility. You can use ginger in various cuisines, vegetables, seafood, and meat recipes.

Combined with garlic and chili, it can bring an aromatic burst of flavor to the cooking, especially stir-fried dishes.

Additionally, due to its sweetly earthy flavor, you can even use ginger in sweet dishes like apple pie. It can bring a sweet aroma to your cakes and even ice cream.

Contrarily to ginger, the use of galangal is more prevalent in South East Asia and is used in their cuisines. These countries include Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Singapore.

It is one of the main ingredients of the two most popular Thai dishes, tom yum and tom kha gai soup, both of which are popular worldwide.

It can be used along with other ingredients like bergamot and lemongrass to bring a sharp and robust flavor to your cooking. Galangal is also used in curry pastes, noodles, stir-fries, and satay sauces.

4.  Preparation

Ginger is much softer than galangal in texture. It has smooth skin that can be easily peeled off using a spoon. It does not leave a texture, and you will not need to remove it from your food.

Ginger can be easily grated, crushed, or ground into a pulp that can be added to Asian stir-fry in different recipes. The soft pulp or grated ginger mixes up with the recipe and brings out a rich flavor.

Galangal has a tougher texture than ginger and cannot be peeled off with a spoon. In fact, grating galangal can take significant force and be a bit challenging.

You can cut it into fine slices with a sharp knife for foods like stews and soups. However, these slices would not dissolve in the dish, and you will need to take them out before serving.

Another way you can use galangal is to crush it. The crushed galangal can be used in dishes like curry paste.

You can also use ginger and galangal in powder form. Dried ginger is once again easier to convert into powder as compared to galangal due to the difference in its toughness.

What are the health benefits of ginger?

Ginger contains a bioactive substance called gingerol and has the following health benefits:

  • Helps reduce nausea and vomiting
  • Is beneficial for swollen joints
  • Helps against cancer and heart conditions
  • Acts as an analgesic
  • Boosts digestion
  • Has high oxidants levels
  • Lowers cholesterol
  • Lowers blood sugar
  • Protects against type-II diabetes
  • Can potentially stimulate weight loss
zingiberaceae family plant, flowering red ginger plants

What are the health benefits of galangal?

Galangin is the active compound found in galangal, and it can provide the following health benefits:

  • Has high levels of antioxidants
  • Helps protect against a few types of cancers like liver cancer and melanoma
  • Improves male fertility
  • Has antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties
  • Is helpful in managing asthma, swollen joints, knee pain, and certain skin conditions
  • Boosts energy levels
  • Relieves muscle pain

Can you substitute ginger for galangal?

People often feel tempted to use ginger instead of galangal in their cooking due to their similar appearance.

However, this is not a good idea, as galangal brings a much more robust and spicier taste than ginger. You should find a closer substitute or skip adding galangal altogether, instead of substituting it with ginger.

Where can I buy galangal?

Ginger is a readily available ingredient. You can buy it in fresh, dried, or powdered form from any supermarket or grocery store.

However, since galangal is only famous in South East Asia, it can be a little challenging to find in some regions.

You can usually visit a local Asian store to buy fresh, dried, or powdered galangal.

Well-stocked supermarkets may have fresh galangal along with ginger. You can also look for dried galangal, usually available in sliced or powdered form.

Where to buy galangal online:

There are a couple options you can try. Here are my favorites:

Burma Spice Dried Galangal Slices (Greater Galangal or Alpinia Galanga)

Cathay Thai Galangal Powder

fresh whole galangal rhizome on a wooden cutting board

How to store ginger and galangal?

Both ginger and galangal can be stored in the refrigerator for about a week. You can loosely wrap it in a plastic bag and keep it in the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator.

If you have used a chunk of the ginger or galangal, it will help to cover the exposed site with a wet towel to prevent it from drying.

Ginger and galangal can also be stored in frozen form. To do this, cut them into small pieces, pack them in a zip-lock bag, and put them in the freezer.

You can also store these ingredients by drying them and grinding them into a fine powder. The powdered form of ginger and galangal can be stored in an airtight container for extended periods.

What can I substitute for galangal?

If you are making a seafood flavored dish, fingerroot can be a suitable substitute for galangal. For soups, you can use lemongrass for its citrusy and spicey flavor. You can also use turmeric in place of galangal for dishes like curries and stews.

Conclusion on galangal vs. ginger:

Ginger and galangal both belong to the same family and have similar appearances. However, when you get past their exteriors, you will find that both of these roots have their own distinct tastes and textures.

Galangal has a strong, spicy, and savory flavor that lacks sweetness compared to ginger, which has a sweet aroma.

As ginger is more readily available than galangal, some might decide to use ginger in recipes requiring galangal, which is never a good idea.

For the success of your recipe, it is advised that you use the right ingredients, or a mixture of substitutes that will fit your desired flavors.

More about herbs and spices:

More about herbal medicine:

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