Galangal vs Ginger: What’s the Difference?

Written By Acacia Crossley


You’ve probably seen ginger and galangal used in various curries, stir-fries and Asian-inspired dishes. With galangal being a little harder to come by in the Western world, recipes will often suggest using ginger instead. But, are these two ingredients really that similar?

Images of ginger and galangal side-by-side with labels

Galangal has the same base flavour as ginger but with a touch of citrus and floral, making it a far more complex spice. Ginger is much more simple, a gentle blend of sweet and warm. 

What is Galangal?

Galangal is better defined by its alternative name: Thai ginger.

It is commonly used in Thai, Indonesian, Malaysian, and other Southeast Asian cuisines and offers a spicy, peppery kick in a way reminiscent of ginger.

However, galangal has a much more complex flavour than a simple heated kick. It has citrusy and floral notes, brightening up and deepening a range of dishes. 

There are two main types of galangal: Greater and lesser galangal. Greater galangal is the more commonly used type of galangal known for its intense flavour. Lesser galangal has a milder flavour and is mainly used in traditional Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine, especially in soups, broths, and herbal remedies.

Is Galangal Better Than Ginger?

Galangal has a sharper, spicier, and more peppery taste, while ginger offers a warm, slightly sweet, and pungent flavour. Preference between the two largely depends on the specific dish and individual palate rather than one being universally “better” than the other.

Close up of galangal

What is Ginger?

Ginger is used in cuisines worldwide, including Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, and Western cuisines. Ginger is known for its versatility and is used in both sweet and savoury dishes.

It adds a zingy and aromatic element to stir-fries, marinades, baked goods, teas, and more because of its pungent, spicy, and slightly sweet taste, balanced with a pleasant warmth.

Though it is native to Southeast Asia, ginger is one of the most widely used spices in the world, with many Western dishes not being the same without ginger’s warm, sweet spice. 

It’s an ingredient you won’t struggle to find in your local supermarket.

Fresh Ginger vs Ground Ginger

Fresh ginger is a fibrous rhizome with a pungent, spicy flavour, often used in its natural form in cooking. Ground ginger, on the other hand, is the dried and powdered form of the same root, offering a more concentrated and slightly different taste profile.

Close up of ginger

Similarities Between Galangal and Ginger

Not every spice can be compared to one another as each most have unique features that set them apart. This is not entirely the case for galangal and ginger, which share a fair few similarities: 

  • Appearance: It is the root of their galangal and ginger respective plants used in cooking, which are very similar in shape and texture. They tend to have tan-coloured skin (though the skin can be lighter and darker) and a firm, knobby appearance. 
  • Plant Relation: A large reason galangal and ginger have so many similarities is because they are both part of the Zingiberaceae or ginger family, which also includes turmeric and cardamom.
  • Strong Aroma: Galangal and ginger are not just used in cooking for their flavours, though they do play a big part. They are also used because of the strong aroma that they can provide to a dish.
  • Available Forms: Seeing as they are both types of roots, it makes sense that you can buy galangal and ginger in the same forms dictated by what you plan to use either spice for. These forms include oils, dried, powdered and fresh varieties. 
  • Varied Uses: Both galangal and ginger can be used for a whole range of reasons in cooking to add flavour and depth to a variety of dishes, including soups, curries, sauces, marinades, and beverages.
  • Spicy Sweet: Galangal and ginger are favoured not only for their warm, spicy components but also for their balancing sweetness. The sweetness is not overwhelming, just enough to make them the perfect spices to use in sweet treats, especially around Christmas.

Differences Between Galangal and Ginger

At the end of the day, no two spices are the same. Galangal and ginger do have their differences that span flavour and origin. It’s why some recipes will call for both ingredients:

  • Complexity: Though they share the same kind of spicy kick with a hint of sweetness, galangal is far more complex with its flavour profile than ginger. Its floral, citrusy notes are easy to taste.
  • Level Of Heat: It may have a more complex flavour overall, but galangal is not as spicy as ginger. While both spices add a spicy element to dishes, galangal’s heat is generally less intense than ginger’s fiery kick.
  • Availability: Galangal is harder to find in mainstream Western stores than ginger. It is more commonly available in Asian markets or speciality stores. Ginger is widely available and easily accessible in most grocery stores worldwide.
Can You Substitute Galangal for Ginger?

Yes, you can substitute galangal for ginger. However, galangal has a sharper, more citrusy flavour compared to ginger. Use it in a 1:1 ratio, but expect the flavour of the finished dish to be slightly tangier.

Galangal vs Ginger: Which Wins?

I’m giving you a dilemma. You’re now limited to using just one or the other in your cooking, so which are you voting for? Does common ginger get your vote or could you not live without galangal?

Do You Prefer Galangal or Ginger?

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