Galangal hunt

• The great •

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Plants With A Purpose -

Greater galangal Alpinia galanga

Galanga or galan­gale (kah or gah in Thai) is the culi­nary species widely used through­out the whole of south­east Asia. It is a larger species, grow­ing to a couple of me­tres in its na­tive habi­tat, less in tem­per­ate cli­mates.

The rhi­zomes are larger too, up to the size of a clenched fist. Th­ese pro­duce buds or shoots with a pink­ish tinge which re­sem­ble young gin­ger, but the skin is much tougher with dark, ring-like lines, giv­ing the rhi­zome a seg­mented ap­pear­ance.

Cut into the rhi­zome and it is dense and woody, like cut­ting rope, es­pe­cially if older. Younger rhi­zomes can be used with­out peel­ing.

There are sev­eral va­ri­eties of galangal. The most com­mon is red galangal, which bears tall pan­i­cles of tiny red and white flow­ers in late sum­mer.

Alpinia of­fic­i­narum syn Lan­guas of­fic­i­narum

The name lesser galangal has been ap­plied to A. of­fic­i­narum and more of­ten Kaempfe­ria galangal.

A. of­fic­i­narum is a na­tive of China and is used ex­ten­sively in South China. The rhi­zomes have a dark red­dish-brown skin, a near-white in­te­rior, are 3-10cm long, and rarely over 2cm thick. They are stronger in odour and taste than greater galangal.

Lesser galangal’s culi­nary use is re­stricted to a few in­dige­nous cuisines, mainly within the Malay peo­ples in Malaysia and In­done­sia. It is es­sen­tial in the spicy-sweet food of Ja­vanese cui­sine, and shines in Ba­li­nese dishes, such as the fa­mous Ba­li­nese roast duck (be­bek be­tula). In China, es­pe­cially the Sichuan prov­ince, it is re­ferred to as sand gin­ger or sha jiang and is al­ways used dried.

While greater galangal is su­pe­rior in flavour, lesser galangal has the higher con­cen­tra­tion of galan­gin (for­merly called galan­gol or alpinol) and its many health ben­e­fits. It has been used as a medic­i­nal herb for cen­turies through­out Asia and Europe in the Mid­dle Ages and has a warm, stim­u­lat­ing ef­fect on di­ges­tion, rather like gin­ger. It has been used as a rem­edy for nau­sea (in­clud­ing sea sick­ness), in­di­ges­tion, poor cir­cu­la­tion, rheuma­tism and to tone the tis­sues.

Chi­nese keys Boe­sen­ber­gia ro­tunda

An­other species, Chi­nese keys, is not closely re­lated to galangal but is closer to lesser galangal in taste. It is named for the fin­ger or key-like con­fig­u­ra­tion of the roots. Chi­nese Keys is used in the fa­mous jun­gle cur­ries and spicy sal­ads of North­ern Thai­land. Whether you use it in cook­ing or not, it is a hand­some con­ser­va­tory plant forming dense clumps of very wide leaves and showy pink or­chid­like flow­ers. It is hardier than true galangal.

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