Languas galanga, Syn. Alpinia
galanga [L.] Willd.
Family : Zingiberaceae
Other names: Galanga; greater
galangal; Siamese ginger
Greater galangal, mostly referred
to simply as galangal, is a very popular spice in whole South East
Asia and especially typical for the cuisine of Thailand. In the
Middle Ages, it was used as a medicine, spice and an aphrodisiac.
Its origin is in South East Asia, probably southern China; it is
now cultivated in India, Indochina, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The ginger-like rootstock (rhizome) is the useful plant part. It
is warm, sweet and spicy. Fresh galangal has a distinct fragrance
and the dried galangal is more spicy and sweet-aromatic, almost
like cinnamon. Galanga and similar forms derive from the Arabic
names khulendjan or khalangian, which themselves are probably a
distortion of Chinese liang-kiang "mild ginger". The genus name
Alpinia is in memory of an Italian Botanist, Prospero Alpina (1533-1617),
and the alternative name Languas is based on the Malay name lengkuas,
which in turn may relate to the former mentioned Chinese term.
Greater galangal grows to a height
of 1.8 m and has long, elegant, blade-like leaves. The flowers are
green and white with red tips. Rhizome is built up from cylindrical
subunits (circular cross-section), whose pale-reddish surface is
characteristically cross-striped by reddish-brown, small rings.
The interior has about the same colour as the skin and is hard and
woody in texture.
The rhizome contains up to 1.5% essential
oil (1,8 cineol, alpha-pinene, eugenol, camphor, methyl cinnamate
and sesquiterpenes). In dried galangal, the essential oil has quantitatively
different composition than in fresh one. Whereas alpha-pinene, 1,8-cineol,
alpha-bergamotene, trans-beta-farnesene and beta-bisabolene seem
to contribute to the taste of fresh galanga equally, the dried rhizome
shows lesser variety in aroma components (cineol and farnesene,
mostly). The resin causing the pungent taste (formerly called galangol
or alpinol) consists of several di-arylheptanoids and phenylalkanones
(the latter are also found in ginger and grains of paradise). Furthermore,
the rhizome is high in starch.
Aroma and flavour
Galangal may be used fresh or dried
in all the cuisines of South east Asia. The pure and refreshing
aroma of the fresh spice will change to a more medical and sweet
taste by drying; most Thai cooks will, therefore, prefer the fresh
rhizome whenever available. It appears frequently in Thai soups,
stir-fries or curries, cut in thin slices for soups or grated for
curries. Like ginger, its aroma merges well with garlic. Indonesians,
on the other hand, frequently use slices or powder of the fresh
or dried rhizome, e.g., for nasi goreng (fried rice with vegetables
Another well-known Indonesian dishes
which makes use of dried galangal is rendang, a spicy beef (or buffalo)
stew originally stemming from the minangkabau people in Western
Sumatra. Cubed beef is cooked for at least one hour in thick coconut
milk together with dried chiles, garlic and dried turmeric, ginger,
Indonesian bay-leaves and galangal; some recipes additionally prescribe
Indonesian cinnamon, black pepper or even fennel. The rather spicy
cooking style of the minangkabau people, named nasi Padang "Padang-food"
after their capital, is popular all over today's Indonesia.
Medicinal and other use
Galangal is used in medicines to
treat nausea, stomach problems and catarrh. It is also recommended
as a cure for halitosis in India. It has antibacterial properties
and is used in homeopathic medicines. Galangal is sometimes confused
with other spices of the ginger family. Its taste and appearance
are, however, characteristic; it cannot be substituted by any other