If you are a big fan of Thai cuisine, you might have found yourself wondering about that curiously fragrant, herbal after taste that it almost always seems to carry. For lovers of Asian food, it is a thoroughly enjoyable flavour – one which is at once zingy and aromatic, but also delicately floral.

Well, it is time to shine a spotlight on the wonder ingredient hiding behind a lot of Thai dishes. It is called galangal, and is often confused for ginger, as they look very similar. They both have knobbly yellow exteriors, which turn to creamy white when sliced or peeled. They are both root vegetables, and do indeed come from the same family, commonly referred to as zingiberaceae.

The next time that you are sipping your way through a Thai soup, keep your eye out for this root vegetables. It has a stronger flavour than ginger, being more astringent and slightly sharper. This means that it lends itself well not only to Thai food, but to Indian cuisine as well. In fact, galangal tea is one of the oldest herbal recipes to come out of India.

Where can I find it?
Whilst you might find galangal in a mainstream supermarket, you are much better off heading out to your nearest Asian market. Or, you can head to the ground spices section of the SpiceWala website, and pick up a box of ground galangal from our online store. Our ground spices come freshly packaged, beautifully presented, and ready to use straight from the box.

Does it need any preparation?
We recommend investing in ground galangal, because this root vegetable has an extremely tough exterior – much tougher than that of fresh ginger. If you are going to tackle it from scratch, you will need a sharp knife and a sturdy spice grinder.
Once you have removed the outer skin, cut the brittle interior into small splinters, which will then need to be added to a grinder and given a thorough bashing with a pestle, or other hard object. Whilst galangal can be added to a meal in chunks, if this is the case, it will need to be removed before serving.

How should I use it?
The truth is that galangal is often wrongly substituted for ginger, which simply does not do a dish any good – particularly as lots of recipes call for both ingredients anyway. They have a very different taste, so they should not be used interchangeably, but as separate and distinct flavours.

Otherwise, this root vegetable can be used in an almost any Asian dish. If you are looking for a rich, earthy flavour that will not overpower a dish (like cloves can, if not used correctly), add a generous dash of ground galangal to a prepared marinade, rub, paste or spice mix.

It can also be added to fish dishes, and rather remarkably, will combat any overly strong odours. This is a very versatile ingredient, so do not be intimidated by its unfamiliar name or tough shell, because it can be successfully added to a vast range of recipes.