If you cannot imagine your food and beverages without turmeric or ginger, you’re probably also familiar with galangal. Galangal root originates from Southern Asia, and aside from being used as a spice, it is also an integral part of Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine.
Used both fresh and cooked, galangal has a strong flavor profile that is even more pronounced when eaten raw, and it is packed with antioxidants.
However, many people find galangal to be too strong and pungent for their taste. Whether this is the case with you, or you simply need a good galangal substitute – keep on reading!
The best substitutes for galangal
As we’ve already mentioned, the first association for galangal for many people is ginger, since they’re quite similar. However, galangal is a bit more on the citrusy side, which makes it brighter and more refreshing.
Galangal belongs to the ginger family, and it is a rhizome, which means that it grows underground. Aside from being a part of the ginger family and having a similar flavor profile, galangal also resembles ginger in appearance.
It is white or cream-colored, with tube-like “branches” and small nodes. Usually, galangal also has thinner skin than ginger, which makes peeling a lot easier and faster. There are also different varieties of this vegetable that differ slightly:
- Greater galangal: native to Indonesia, it is a subtler, but also slightly bigger version of galangal;
- Lesser galangal: from China, it is far more peppery and pungent than the greater galangal;
- Light galangal: native to India, it is almost identical to ginger.
Out of all three varieties, you’re most likely to come across lesser galangal, which is the most aromatic, flavor-packed kind.
As with the majority of other aromatic plants, fresh galangal offers a much stronger, pronounced flavor and aroma. However, dried galangal may be a more convenient option, especially if you don’t feel like peeling and cutting it yourself.
Even though the flavors are very similar to ginger, galangal is usually more on the peppery side, as opposed to the spiciness of the ginger. It also shares some similarities with lemongrass, which is something you don’t get from ginger.
Although it usually has thinner skin than ginger, fresh galangal must be peeled before use. Both fresh and dried galangal are amazing in sauces, soups, curries, meat or seafood marinades, and stir-fries.
With the galangal substitutes we’ve chosen, we’re sure its absence will go unnoticed!
No surprises here! The first place goes to ginger, which is definitely the closest thing to galangal you can get. As you already know, galangal belongs to the ginger family, so it is only natural for them to have so many similarities.
They’re both highly aromatic, pungent, a bit tart, and sometimes sweet. The only real difference in flavor between ginger and galangal is that the latter is more peppery and citrusy, whereas ginger is spicier.
While the ginger powder is far more subtle, with fresh ginger, a little bit goes a long way, so make sure to adjust the doses accordingly. It usually depends on the brand, but about 1 tablespoon of powdered ginger replaces ¼ teaspoon of fresh ginger.
The next best thing when it comes to a substitute for galangal is turmeric. This spice comes from the turmeric plant, and it is also referred to as Indian saffron. It is an absolute staple both in Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine, but it is used worldwide.
Turmeric is also a part of the ginger family, which explains the similarity between galangal, ginger, and turmeric. The spice itself comes from the root of the turmeric plant, which is knotty just like a ginger root.
What makes ground turmeric rather specific is its vibrant yellow-orange color, thanks to which turmeric can also be used as a natural coloring agent. It is also a rather convenient replacement for ground galangal.
When it comes to aroma and flavor, turmeric is very earthy, pungent, and slightly bitter. Flavor-wise, it also reminds of horseradish.
Speaking of horseradish, it is also a great galangal root substitute as it offers a similar aroma and flavors. It is the root of the horseradish plant, and it comes from the same family as wasabi and mustard.
Besides the aromatic horseradish root, its leaves are also used in cooking. If you want to experience its hotness and pungency in full potential, you should use freshly grated horseradish root, since that’s the best way to release all its oils.
A more subtle, mild version that still delivers a kick of pungency and spiciness is ground horseradish. About 1.5 teaspoons of a quality horseradish powder can replace 1 teaspoon of fresh horseradish.
Fingerroot is yet another relative of galangal, belonging to the same family as ginger and turmeric. This aromatic galangal replacement is a commonly used spice in Asian cooking, and it is known as a more subtle option in the ginger family.
If you find galangal taste to be too overbearing, you’ll love fingerroot and its subtle flavor profile. Don’t get us wrong – fingerroot is far from neutral, but it isn’t as pungent and peppery as its close relatives.
Fingerroot is warm like ginger, without its characteristic spiciness. It is earthy, mildly bitter, and offers a light touch of peppery flavor.
5. Black pepper
Pepper is a great choice when substituting galangal if your focus is on that peppery, pungent flavor and warm, earthy aroma. When it comes to pepper, you’ll get a much more intense aroma and flavor from freshly ground pepper than the pre-ground product.
Black pepper is dominantly hot and spicy, and it is a more intense variant of this spice. It pairs well with all kinds of meat, fish, soups, stews, salads, and stir-fries. It can also be used for dry rubs and marinades if you want the meat or fish to soak up the flavors.
6. White pepper
White pepper, on the other hand, is a subtler, milder version of pepper, and it isn’t as hot. It also has a unique citrusy aroma that pairs well with seafood and whitefish.
While the dominant flavor note with black pepper is spiciness and hotness, with white pepper you’ll get more of an earthy, nutty flavor, with a slight note of that unique peppery aroma.
You’re probably familiar with mustard as a pungent condiment, but that isn’t the only mustard variant available. A mustard condiment is made from tiny mustard seeds, which are basically the hottest, most flavorful mustard variant.
Mustard as a condiment is a good replacement for galangal paste – especially when it comes to consistency. Both are thick, aromatic, and easy to implement into any dish for a quick dose of pungency that needs no cooking to develop.
8. Mustard oil
Mustard oil, on the other hand, is a subtle way to elevate your dish with a hint of pungency and bitterness that turns to sweetness during cooking. However, mustard oil can also be used as a finishing oil on your roasts, dips, and salads.
It is an excellent choice for cooking oil, as it has a very high smoke point of about 480°F. Feel free to use it for deep-frying, frying, baking, roasting, and grilling.
9. Galangal paste
Galangal paste is a condiment made from fresh galangal, with the addition of ingredients such as citric acid, water, salt, sugar, and perhaps some other flavoring agents. However, if you want to avoid any processed ingredients, you can always make the paste at home.
The store-bought galangal paste has a longer shelf life, and it allows you to implement that unique galangal flavor and aroma without worrying too much about the dose. It is safe to say that the paste is a subtler, milder variant.
Galangal paste is an ideal choice for pasta and noodle sauce, stir-fries, salads, or a marinade. Many people gravitate towards the paste since there’s no flavor developing and it doesn’t require any cooking, but it can be added to cooked meals.
Lemongrass is a perennial grass type, originating from tropical and sub-tropical areas. However, it is mostly produced in India, and they’re the leading manufacturers of this aromatic citrusy plant.
Even though lemongrass isn’t particularly related to lemon, the name itself implies that the aroma and the flavor are quite similar to this citrus. Lemongrass is refreshing, slightly acidic, citrusy, a bit earthy, and it can have a small dose of pungency.
This galangal substitute is an ideal choice if you aren’t focused on pungency and hotness as much as you’re looking for something to brighten up your dish and add some freshness. As usual, the fresh version is much stronger than the powder.
11. Kaffir lime leaves
Kaffir lime leaves are a vital part of Thai cuisine, and they’re also largely used all over Southern Asia. They’re extremely fragrant, citrusy, and highly aromatic, so you want to add a little bit at a time until you reach the desired flavor.
They’re commonly used fresh and added to soups, sauces, curries, and salads. When using kaffir lime leaves, you want to remove the center vein and cut up or tear the fresh leaves. The taste reminds of lime zest, as it is predominantly citrusy.
How to choose a galangal substitute
When choosing a substitute for any ingredient, it all comes down to whether you’re eager to experiment, or you’d rather stay within the same flavor and/or texture profile.
In case you’re not in the experimenting mood, luckily for you, the ginger family that galangal belongs to offers many alternatives. The best choices would be ginger, turmeric, and fingerroot – the only difference being in the level of pungency and hotness.
Of course, there’s also the galangal paste, which is made from fresh galangal, but it is milder and subtler than the fresh plant.
Horseradish, black pepper, white pepper, mustard, and mustard oil are more on the pungent, peppery, spicy side, so you want to be careful when it comes to dose.
On the other hand, if you want something brighter and citrusy, go with lemongrass or kaffir lime leaves.
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