What to Know About Galangal, Ginger's Super-Spice Cousin That Helps Lower Inflammation

Similar to its sister spices ginger, cardamom, and turmeric, galangal offers a unique and healthy kick to any dish.

If you've ever shopped for ginger root in the produce section of the grocery store, chances are you may have almost inadvertently grabbed a similar-looking spice called galangal root. While the two may appear uncannily similar, galangal has a very different flavor profile from ginger, so they're not often used interchangeably. But don't write off this new-to-you spice just yet. Galangal adds unique flavor and offers a variety of health benefits when used in certain dishes.

What Is Galangal and What Does It Taste Like?

Similar in appearance to ginger, galangal is a closely related vegetable that can give a little extra zing or kick to sour soups and dishes, Catherine Ko, RDN, a Los Angeles-based dietitian says. In fact, native to Southeast Asia, galangal root looks so similar in appearance to ginger that it's sometimes referred to as "Thai ginger"' or "Siamese ginger." While ginger is used more universally, Galangal is specifically utilized in Southeast Asian cuisines, such as Thai, Indonesian, and Vietnamese cooking. Both ginger and galangal (along with other spices like cardamom and turmeric) come from the rhizome family; however, each of them is actually quite different when it comes to their flavor: ginger tends to be rather spicy and not at all sweet, while galangal offers a sharper, citrusy flavor. Galangal also has a smoother and paler skin than ginger, as well as harder flesh. It also needs to be sliced, as it's more difficult to grate than ginger tends to be.

Galangal Benefits

According to Brigitte Zeitlin, RD, founder of BZ Nutrition in New York City, galangal has also been used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for centuries and is gaining recognition in traditional medicine as well. Read on for some of the most notable benefits of eating galangal.

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Galangal is high in antioxidants.

Galangal is particularly rich in a group of antioxidants called polyphenols, that studies have linked to helping with cognition by improving memory, and lowering your LDL cholesterol (that's the bad kind), which helps to combat heart disease, and also helps to lower blood sugar naturally which works to combat the onset of diabetes, Zeitlin says.

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It has anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties.

"Galangal also has been shown to have both anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties, meaning it helps to lower inflammation that leads to joint pain in the body while also protecting the body against harmful microorganisms and bacteria, preventing illnesses and parasites," Zeitlin explains.

RELATED: How to Start Eating More Anti-Inflammatory Foods—and Why It's So Important

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Early research suggests it may help improve male fertility.

There is some research to suggest that consuming galangal root may also boost male fertility. However it's important to note that existing research has come from animal or test-tube studies and there currently are very few published studies directly tying galangal root to these benefits in humans. Therefore, more robust scientific research is necessary to draw any firm conclusions. Additionally, more research is needed in general to determine how much galangal root humans can safely ingest when trying to reap these health benefits and avoid any potential side effects.

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It may have active, cancer-fighting compounds.

Test-tube studies have found that galangin, a type of flavonoid found in galangal root, as well as other properties present in the spice, has some promising anti-cancer effects on a number of different types of cancer, including leukaemia, melanoma, pancreatic cancer, hepatoma, colon cancer, and more. Again, however, more research conducted on humans is needed to determine whether these active compounds do in fact help prevent and stop the spread of certain cancer cells.

What Is Galangal Root: fresh galangal on a green background
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How to Prepare Galangal

As you might expect, similar to the manner in which ginger is prepared, galangal can be boiled, steamed, or eaten raw, says Gabrielle Tafur, RD, an Orlando, Florida-based dietitian. Galangal does tend to be rather hard when raw, but when cooked properly, it can provide a unique flavor that pairs deliciously with other ingredients.

"It's usually more convenient for galangal to be pureed in order to add it to recipes and prevent clumping or biting into hard chunks throughout your meal," Tafur explains."This may be how you've seen ginger in the fresh produce aisle lately as this method prolongs its freshness and prevents molding."

"You can also store pureed galangal in the freezer, so later you can easily toss it into soups [such as Tom Kha, a popular Thai coconut soup], smoothies, or stir-fries," Tafur says. "Depending on the flavor profile you're seeking during your meal, this will generally dictate how much of this ingredient to use."

Ko also recommends slicing or mincing the root in order to fully ingest it. "Utilizing this spice to flavor the food is also an effective way to reduce salt intake, which can further improve blood pressure levels," she says. Since galangal is a spice similar to turmeric, Zeitlin recommends incorporating it into your cooking and food prep in similar ways as you would with turmeric, or adding both spices to the same dish. "I add it to my vegetable stir-fries, mix it into my homemade salad dressings, and add some to my matcha lattes," she says.

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