Galangal Vs. Ginger – How Do They Compare?

On occasion, mother nature enjoys playing pranks on us humans by creating two ingredients that look very similar, but have very different flavors. Plantains and bananas: easily confused but we pity the fool that munches into a raw plantain! Galangal and ginger are equally as confusing, and you don’t want to mix these up in your next dish. Before you break out into a nervous sweat, you may be pleased to know that we’re created this article to teach you how these roots are used in cooking, and how they compare. Let’s get started.

The Difference Between Galangal and Ginger

Although the two rhizomes look similar, galangal has lighter, smoother skin than ginger with a flesh that is considerably harder. Galangal has a much stronger flavor that is citrusy, sharp, and somewhat earthy with a pine-like undertone. Ginger is peppery, sweet, and warming with less bite than galangal. Their difference in taste means that they should never be used interchangeably in recipes.


It is possible to grate ginger into a moist pulp that can easily be tossed into an Asian stirfry or incorporated into a marinade. Once added, it brings flavor to the dish without providing texture. Ginger is never removed from a dish at the end of cooking.

Galangal’s texture is a lot woodier and its exterior is tougher. This makes grating a challenge. An easier option is to use a sharp knife and slice into thin pieces before you add it to food like soups and stews. The texture of these larger pieces is unpleasant to eat and are best removed before serving. Another option is to crush the galangal, which is necessary if you are making a curry paste. To do this, slice the plant into thin matchstick-like pieces and crush with the side of a chef’s knife.

Quick tip: A simple way to peel ginger is to use a teaspoon, which makes quick work of removing the skin.

Culinary uses

Galangal is a popular ingredient in much of Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam. In Thailand, it is an essential element in their curry pastes, such as Massaman or Rendang. The classic Tom Yum soup, also a Thai dish, is hugely popular in restaurants around the world; galangal teams up with lemongrass and bergamot leaves to create a punchy, flavor-packed soup. Galangal can also be added to curries, noodle dishes, stir-fries, and it’s a delicious ingredient added to satay sauce.

Ginger is a more versatile spice in the kitchen which is used in a variety of cuisines. It combines with garlic and chili to make a wonderful aromatic flavor combo that breathes life into a stir-fry. Indian and Caribbean cooking also use ginger in a range of vegetable, seafood, and meat recipes. Ginger lends itself much better to desserts thanks to its milder, less astringent taste. In the United States, it is perfect for adding flavor to a classic apple pie or for adding to slices, cakes, ice cream, and much more. Thai cooks and people from other Southeast Asian countries don’t tend to use ginger as much in their cooking as the Chinese do.

Where to buy

Fresh or dried, ginger is easy to find in most supermarkets or greengrocers. The spice section in any supermarket will contain the powdered version if that’s what you need.

Depending on your location, galangal can be harder to find. Well stocked supermarkets will sometimes range the fresh root, and it is usually found next to fresh ginger (which can be confusing). Other options are to visit a local Asian grocer that often sells the product refrigerated. Galangal is also sold as a dried product. It is often available sliced in bags or as a powder.


Store galangal or ginger in the refrigerator’s vegetable drawer for up to one week, loosely wrapped in plastic. If you’ve cut a piece off then it will help to dry the exposed section with a paper towel before storing.

You can extend either of these root’s lives by three months by cutting into quarter-inch pieces and adding o a zip-lock bag before freezing.

Health benefits

Galangal has been used for centuries, crushed, and then steeped in water to create a brew that acts as a useful natural remedy. It is believed to improve circulation, ease nausea, support the immune system, and help with stomach aches.

Ginger has been shown to reduce muscle pain, ease nausea, reduce the risk of heart disease, and lower cholesterol levels. Source.

Substituting fresh and powdered

Fresh galangal has a more complex flavor profile, whilst the powdered version is mostly citrus feel to it. The two can be used interchangeably, but they won’t be a carbon copy of each other. We recommend using one teaspoon of powder for each half-inch piece of fresh root.

Powdered ginger can be used as a substitute for fresh ginger. For every tablespoon of fresh ginger called for in the recipe, use a quarter teaspoon of ground ginger.

Did you know? Galangal comes in two types: greater galangal and lesser galangal which is actually the more peppery and pungent option.

Can you substitute galangal for Ginger?

Galangal has a much punchier, citrus taste that won’t work in many recipes that call for ginger. You are better to leave out the ginger altogether if you can. If you must swap one for the other, then reduce the quantity of galangal you use by 25%.

Fast facts

  • The galangal rhizome is a member of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae) and is also known as Siamese ginger or Thai ginger.
  • India is the biggest producer of ginger, followed by China, and Nepal.
  • Ginger is from the same family as galangal, turmeric, and cardamom.
  • Ginger and galangal both originated from Southeast Asia.

Related reading:
What is the difference between turmeric and cumin?
How do garlic salt and garlic powder differ?

Summing up

Galangal and ginger are both spicy ingredients that have a very similar appearance. Although they are from the same family, you’ll find galangal has a stronger citrus flavor; it is sharp and punchy, perfect for a Thai soup, but not ideal for many desserts that commonly use ginger. If you are in a pinch, you could use them interchangeably, but we don’t recommend it. You’re better to save cooking the dish for another day when you have the correct ingredients.


Hot Topics

Related Articles