Ginger with a Twist
Galangal (Alpinia galanga) a member of the ginger family is known by its robust, herbaceous nature and is a perennial plant. It is familiar by its Ayurvedic name Kulanjana and Unani name, Khulanjan.
Botanical name: Alpinia officinarum or Alpinia galangal
Family: Zingiberaceae (Ginger)
Nature of Herb
Galangal also known as (Alpinia officinarum) Alpinia galanga, a plant in the ginger family, is an herb used in cooking, especially in Indonesian and Thai cuisines.
Galangal's rhizomes are pale sand-colored with earth-tone rings on its semi-rough surface. Its flesh is ivory to yellow in tone depending on its maturity. It has a floral and spicy aroma with earthy, woodsy and mustard-like flavors with subtle citrus undertones. It looks a lot like Ginger with both plant's roots being knobby, wild-shaped, fibrous and firm with similar textured and colored flesh. In India, oil is extracted from the rhizome and is valued for use in perfumes. In Russia, Galangal is used to flavor vinegar and is used in the liqueur 'Nastoika'.
Another interesting story to the herb is that it’s native to Java and China and there are at least two different sub-species known as greater and lesser Galangal. Galangal was introduced to Europe in the 9th century and was used as a spice for over a thousand years until falling out of use. The rhizome is still used as a spice in eastern Europe. It is cultivated throughout the Far East and South Pacific. Domestically, it grows in warmer regions of California and Florida.
It is a tropical, herbaceous plant and a member of the ginger family, cultivated primarily for its rhizome or root. The flavor of the galangal root is much more pungent and spicy than ginger.
It forms a clump of leafy stems up to 2 meters tall. The leaves are a glossy, bright green and about 50cm long. The long leaves that get to about 10 to 13 inches long create a look like ornamental grass which makes it good for planting in areas that need shade tolerant landscaping features.
The flowers are greenish-white about 3 cm long and occurs in dense clusters. The Corolla has distinctly clawed lips. Flowering occurs in May and June while fruiting occurs in August and September. The fruits are orange-red in color.
- Height at Maturity
When it reaches maturity, this plant has the potential of reaching between three and six feet tall.
- Life Span
Galangal is a Pereniel plant
Galangal root is available year-round.It is botanically classified as Alpinia officinarum and is known in Eastern Asia as Galanga, Kah, Laos root and Garingal. Besides being sensitive to weather conditions this plant will rot easily when left exposed to cold, wet conditions. Overwatering tends to ruin the plants.
Galangal is best suited for planting in shaded open areas in warmer climates as it’s a tropical plant and is extremely sensitive to frost and drought conditions. This plant will rot easily when left exposed to cold, wet conditions.
The Galangal root varieties like Ginger requires the proper soil with adequate drainage to prevent them from rotting. Once the ground temperature has warmed and the soil is moist (not wet) its best suited for the plantation of the plant. The soil should be rich in organic matter such as sandy loam. This type of soil provides the thick roots with space to grow while allowing water to properly drain.
Galangal is an aromatic stimulant and carminative. Its usefulness can be listed down to:
- Its stomach soothing properties make it a suitable aid for nausea. It possesses tonic and antibacterial qualities which make it a useful ingredient in homeopathic remedies
- Galangal root is used primarily in Asian cooking, lightly crushed or pounded as an aromatic to add earthy flavor to broths and soups. If substituting for ginger, use a smaller amount as Galangal is spicier, with brighter citrus notes. The root can be dried and ground to be used as a spice, creating a subtler version of its mustard-like flavor profile while bringing out its musky earthiness. To store, refrigerate in a paper bag in the crisper drawer, or grate the entire root, lay in a line on a sheet of plastic wrap, wrap and twist ends tightly, then freeze
- The medical applications of galangal are in many ways the same as its close relative ginger
- It is a bitter herb that is used to promote digestion and stimulate appetite and production of digestive fluids. The herb is therefore used to treat anorexia, indigestion (dyspepsia), colic and stomach ache
- It is also used traditionally for hiccups, nausea, vomiting, chronic gastritis, and ulcers in the digestive tract
- The herb has analgesic (relieving pain) and antipyretic (reducing fever) properties and it may also help reduce bacterial and fungal infections
- Galangal is often recommended for motion sickness and morning sickness, an effect that is primarily attributed to ginger
Chemicals isolated from the plant
Rhizomes are a principal element of Galangal. It’s isolated and identified as acetoxy chavicol acetate (galangal acetate). Galangal acetate exhibits a unique pungent sensation which is less intense than that of capsaicin and without a lingering effect. Applications of galangal acetate were tested in beverages, sweet goods, dressings, and personal care products. In many applications, galangal acetate is preferred to other pungent ingredients. It can be used as an alcohol enhancer or an alcohol replacer in alcohol and alcohol-free beverages. The stability of galangal acetate was studied under various conditions.
Galangal can be planted on ridges, usually about 30 cm apart and with 15-23 cm between plants. The crop is planted by setts (small rhizomes) with one or two buds. Plant in spring, after all danger of frost is past and the soil has warmed up at a depth of 5-10 cm.
- Sowing Season
The Rhizomes should be planted in late March to May. The temperature of the soil determines their germination rate. February to mid-April is the best time for raising the crop in north-eastern hilly tracts.
- Land Preparation
The land should be prepared with FYM(farmyard manure) with a combination of green manure as a basal dose just before planting. Well decomposed humus or vermicompost may also be used as manure instead of FYM.
The crop can be raised under rain-fed conditions on terraces in Meghalaya and other north-eastern states and elsewhere in India. Watering is done only during long dry spells.
- Harvesting Methods
Even though it is best to harvest the remaining galangal roots during the early winter to prevent rotting, one can leave a few hands, (what the roots are referred to as) in the ground over the winter if one can heavily mulch the entire area to keep them warm and dry.
Galangal can be stored in the vegetable drawer of a refrigerator for two to three weeks. The Galangal should be plastic wrapped preferably, wrap the root first in a damp cloth, then in a plastic bag. Galangal can be frozen without losing any of its flavor.
Galangal is specifically used for culinary purposes majorly in South-East Asia as a food flavoring is also used in Chinese cooking and Chinese medicine and is sold in Chinese grocery stores under the name Sha Jiang while the plant itself is referred to as Shan nai. The rhizomes are used for protecting clothes against insects.
Galangal rhizome extract also acts as a potential source of platelet activating and in the baking trade to flavor cakes, cookies and biscuits. It has definite medicinal uses and a role in the biofuel industry.