What is Galangal?Galangal, sometimes called blue ginger or Siamese ginger, is a member of the Zingiberaceae (ginger) family. Specifically, galangal refers to the rhizome (underground stem) that is used for cooking and medicinal purposes. In Vietnam, it is used in popular Hue dishes; in Thailand and Laos, it is used in making tom yum; in Indonesia, where the plant originates, it is used extensively in a number of dishes.
The health benefits of galangal have been recognised throughout Asia and Indonesia for centuries. A popular tonic in Southeast Asia when mixed with lime juice, galangal is also used as a digestive aid in Traditional Chinese Medicine and is said to help ease the symptoms of arthritis by many naturopaths and traditional healers. These reported health benefits are reflected in its use in homoeopathy for relief from nausea, diarrhoea, flatulence and rheumatism.
How to Use GalangalWhile galangal looks very much like ginger, it has a distinctively different flavour that is hard to identify until you have tasted it. Some liken it to pepper, while others emphasise its earthy, "perfumy" flavour and citrus scent. Fresh galangal is used like ginger: it can be grated, thinly sliced or crushed. Fresh galangal should snap rather than bend. If you can't find fresh galangal in your local grocery store, you may be able to find it in dried or powdered form. If you use dried galangal, soak it in hot water first to release its flavour.
Once very hard to find in Australian supermarkets, galangal's increasing popularity has made it much easier to find in most major Australian cities. Look for it in the Asian produce section of your supermarket, in oriental grocery stores and in health food stores.