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Blue ginger, Greater Galanga, Siamese Ginger, Thai Ginger, Siamese Galanga, Java Galangal
China Root, India Root, East India Catarrh Root, Chewing John, Little John Chew,

Alpinia galanga

Alpinia Galanga is an immensely pungent and fiery rhizome related to the common ginger but with a personality distinctly its own. The Alpinia species is used as a cooking spice, mainly for curries and soups and can also be mixed with lemon grass, chilies, shallots and garlic into a paste that can be used to flavor rice dishes. It has a ginger-like hotness but a sweetly aromatic flavor that is, actually, the predominant flavor in "Tom-ka-kai" soup that is popular in Thai restaurants. The root (a rhizome) is also the source of an essential oil used in flavoring medicinal bitters and liquors.

Alpinia galanga
A form of ginger and a popular cooking herb
in Indonesian and Thai cuisines.

Galanga referres to two distinct plants: Greater Galanga or grand galanga, which is the Indo-chinese spice, and Lesser Galanga or petit galanga identified as Alpinia officinarum and is a more bitter form, used in mead, Russian kvas, and to a lesser extent, a substitute for greater galanga in Indo-chinese dishes. There is another variety still, Keampferia galanga, all of which all have similar traits. Reach have rhizomes which resemble ginger and turmeric, and all are members of the ginger family.

The Alpinia plant grows from rhizomes in clumps of stiff stalks up to two meters in height (5 to 6 feet) with abundant long leaves. Native to South Asia and Indonesia, it is mainly cultivated in Malaysia, Laos, and Thailand. The robust rhizome has a sharp, sweet taste and smells like a blend of black pepper and pine needles.

A common ingredient in Thai soups and curries, Alpinia is used fresh in chunks or thin slices, mashed and mixed into curry paste, or dried and powdered. Indonesian rendang is usually spiced with galangal. Greater galangal is used in Russia as a flavoring for beverages, including a liqueur called nastoika. The fruits of the plant (berries) can be used in cooking as a substitute for cardamom seeds, and galangal powder goes well with fish and seafood as well as poultry, but you only need a little to flavor a dish.

When dried the smell is more like cinnamon. The root has been used as a spice for more than a thousand years, in both Europe and Asia, although it has long since gone out of favour.

Some History

This particular plant, the rhizome was very popular in Europe as a spice in the Middle Ages. Chaucer mentions it in "The Canterbury Tales" and spells it "galyngale", but it was the lesser galangal, Alpinia officinarum, that was popular in his time as it is more pungent than the Greater one which is Alpinia galanga. The Alpinia genus was named after a famous 17th century Italian botanist, Prospero Alpino.

The red fruit is used in traditional Chinese medicine and has a flavor similar to cardamom. It is also possible to find in it in dried or powdered form. Galangal is grown in most Southeast-Asian countries, but was first harvested for use in cooking and medicine in China.

Other Uses

Alpinia galanga is also known as Chewing John, Little John Chew and galanga root and its under these names, it is used in folk medicine and in voodoo charms. It has gone by other names in English and these testify to the uses it had in medicine, Colic Root, East India Catarrh Root, China Root and India Root. It is supposed to make an excellent remedy for those who suffered from flatulence, dyspepsia, vomiting and other stomach disorders.

In India it is still used in medicine, perfumery and brewing. When topically applied, Galangal is a useful antiseptic and is used in India as a personal deodorant. It has also been claimed that Galangal has aphrodisiac qualities. Galangal possesses most of the health benefits attributed to Root Ginger. Galangal improves the digestive system and is also recommended for seasickness.

Referred to as "the spice of life" by St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), galangal was, in fact, one of her favorite remedies. This famous herbalist used galangal to treat everything from deafness and heart disease to indigestion.

Galangal is frequently prescribed today by homeopaths, veterinarians, and other health care professionals and natural healers and has been found effective as a remedy for many common ailments and conditions like indigestion, diarrhea, and stomach disorders, colds, flu, and fevers, poor blood circulation, especially in hands and feet, and even an anti-tumor effect has been observed in mice.

* Don't take galangal if you are pregnant, suspect you're pregnant, or are planning to become pregnant.
* Avoid this herb if you have a chronic digestive tract disease.
* Consult your health care practitioner before taking this herb.

Powdered galangal does not provide the same taste as fresh galangal, so the substitute of galangal powder would be 1 teaspoon being equal to using half an inch of fresh chopped galangal.

Fresh roots can be kept for as much as three weeks by either storing them in a cool dry place or by wrapping them up in waxed paper and then placing them in the refrigerator. Roots can also be frozen by placing them in an air-tight container or tightly wrapping them in tin-foil.

Alpinia is a lot harder than ginger requires a longer cooking time to become nice and tender. The fresh roots should always be peeled and thinly sliced before cooking.

Galangal is frequently used in fish and shellfish recipes in combination with garlic, ginger, chili, and lemon and frequently used as an essential flavoring ingredient in meat dishes in Thailand.

It is also often pounded with shallots, garlic and chilies to make curries or spicy pastes for dips and known to add flavor to condiments such as vinegar and beer as well as some German teas and Russian wines.