The difference between galangal and ginger

These two ingredients look similar because they are from the same rhizome (root plant) family. Many people think you can substitute one for the other but, for me, this is a big no-no. They’re just too different!

GALANGAL: has a sharp, citrusy flavour, with white/pink flesh

  • There are also two very different types of galangal: greater galangal (which is usually known simply as ‘galangal’ or ‘kha’ in Thai) and lesser galangal (always referred to as ‘lesser galangal’ or ‘krachai’ in Thai). As if all these roots weren’t confusing enough, it’s the lesser galangal that has the most pungent peppery flavour of these two.
  • You don’t need to peel the thick skin as you don’t usually eat the pieces. It can be cut into thin strips (for stir-frying) or crushed (into curry pastes). These are my favourite recipes for red and green curry paste. 
  • Top tip: Galangal and lesser galangal can be a challenge to find in some parts of the world, as they are normally grown in South East Asian countries and are not often exported. If you can’t find galangal, substitute with very young ginger. But there’s nothing you can substitute lesser galangal with, so you can leave it out from the recipe.

GINGER: is pungent, spicy, and bright yellow

My top tip for peeling ginger is to use a teaspoon. The skin comes right off! Us Thais don’t use ginger as often as Chinese cooks, but I do like to put it into some in my stir-fries. When I do, I tend to cut it into thin strips, about an inch long.