Cooking with: Galangal

Galangal is one of those things that causes a quite a bit of confusion whenever someone encounters it for the first time. So much so that it’s what inspired me to begin writing this series of posts. Galangal or “Blue Ginger” is related to, and often confused with ginger.

What is it?

Typically, you’ll find “greater” galangal in markets. If you infer from this that there is a “lesser” galangal, then you’d be correct. If you further infer that I’ve ever seen lesser galangal or know what to do with it, then you’d be incorrect. Let’s stick with greater galangal, which is what most recipes call for.

Fortunately, most markets label galangal as galangal, but you will occasionally find it referenced by other names:

  • Kha (Thailand)
  • Laos/Laos powder (Indonesia)
  • Little John/Chewing John (Hoodoo)

What does it taste/smell like?

Galangal tastes and smells a bit like ginger, but I find it a bit “brighter” and/or “floral”, if that’s obtuse enough for you. When you find it in the market, break a piece off and smell it – you’ll get the idea. Like ginger, galangal is a root with a thin, tightly attached skin that needs to be removed before using. Scraping with a spoon does the job nicely.

As with ginger, galangal is fibrous, and as it gets larger the roots get harder, making it difficult to slice. Go for smaller roots. It should always be firm. Soft galangal is bad galangal.

What can I do with it?

This is really where galangal gets interesting. It is typically used just like ginger (it is related). In fact, it is often used to counter some of the “fishy” flavors in seafood dishes. I particularly like it in curries with shellfish.

My favorite use, however, has to be as “Court Case Root”:

In African-American hoodoo practice, its pleasant gingery taste is part of its charm and, unlike High John and Low John, Chewing John is actually chewed and the juice swallowed. A typical spell prescribes its use in court case magic: Chew the root, swallow the juice and discretely spit the “cud” onto the courtroom floor before the judge walks in; he will decide the case in your favor. (from

How do I store it?

If you need to keep it for more than a few days, wrap it in plastic and freeze it.

Do you have any interesting uses for galangal? Let me know in the comments.


  1. I used it recently in a Thai stewed beef soup recipe. The spices were similar to pho, but it called for galangal in addition to the star anise, cloves, etc. It was tasty.

  2. Another name for galangal is lengkuas (malay). It is also used often in south-east asian cooking (Malaysian, Singaporean, Indonesian)

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