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Ginger vs. Galangal Differences

Galangal vs. Ginger: What’s the Difference?

It’s easy to get confused — galangal and ginger look almost identical, they both start with a “g”, and galangal is even referred to as Thai ginger. They’re both identified as rhizomes (an underground plant stem that sends out shooters for growth). So how do you know which one you’re grabbing?

They might come from the same family, but their taste is shockingly different. Misusing either one could result in a recipe falling flat or becoming too aggressive. Here’s what you need to know.

What Is Galangal?

Put simply, galangal is ginger’s more citrusy cousin. It’s not as easily located as ginger, but its popularity in Southeast Asian and Indian cooking makes it a commonly stocked item in Asian markets. Galangal’s flavor is spicy and peppery, with earthy notes and a bitter finish. It’s sometimes described as having hints of pine or mustard and is recognized for its snap of citrus.

Galangal has a tan exterior, a bit darker than ginger, with brown rings. Like ginger, it must be peeled, but doing so will require a sharp knife or vegetable peeler to get through its tough exterior. Inside is a dense chalky white or pale-yellow flesh so full of fiber and devoid of moisture it can’t be grated. Shredding or thinly slicing is the move with galangal.

What Is Ginger?

This papery brown-skinned knob is a familiar sight in kitchens everywhere, its warm, comforting flavor gracing a multitude of food and beverages alike. It’s spicy and earthy, while simultaneously putting off subtle sweetness. Ginger must also be peeled, but yields so easily to the peeling, the simple edge of a spoon will do the trick.

Inside, the flesh is a bright yellow and fibrous, though it has enough moisture to be easily grated, sliced, mashed, or even juiced. Ginger is also available in both fresh and powdered forms — it happily occupies space in sweet or savory applications.

Big Soft Ginger Cookies

Can You Substitute One For the Other?

Swapping out these distinct spices is quite the grey area. Galangal in place of ginger will change the taste of the dish drastically and steer it in a vastly bolder direction. Depending on the dish you’re making (a stir fry vs a dessert, for example), this might prove an enjoyable departure or a regrettable one.

For sweeter bites, consider cinnamon or cardamom as a more appropriate swap for ginger than galangal. For savory dishes, better options might be turmeric with a bit of ground clove or mace.

Related:

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  • Spice Cookie Recipes

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