What’s the Difference Between Galangal and Ginger?

updated Sep 8, 2022
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Credit: Jeff Roffman

Have you ever picked up what you thought was a hand of ginger to find yourself with something that looked quite similar, but tasted nothing like what you’re expecting? Chances are you picked up galangal — an honest mistake, since these two members of the rhizome family look ridiculously similar. So what really is galangal and how does it compare to ginger?

The Difference Between Galangal and Ginger

Both galangal and ginger are rhizomes, a type of underground creeping stem of a plant that sends out shooters to create new plants, in the ginger family (turmeric and cardamom are also in this family). The biggest difference between galangal and ginger is their taste. Galangal has a sharp citrusy, almost piney flavor, while ginger is fresh, pungently spicy, and barely sweet — that means that they cannot be used interchangeably.

(Image credit: Tarapong Srichayos)

What is Galangal?

Galangal is also know as Thai ginger or Siamese ginger (because it resembles fresh ginger so much), but it really is its own ingredient. It’s commonly found in Thai, Indonesian, and Malaysian cooking. The skin of galangal is smoother and paler than ginger and its flesh is much harder. It can’t be grated like ginger can, but instead must be sliced. The flavor of galangal is much stronger too; it’s earthy, sharp, and extra citrusy.

3 Recipes That Use Galangal

(Image credit: Christine Han)

What is Ginger?

Galangal’s more well-known cousin, ginger, has a softer brown skin that can easily be peeled with a spoon and a softer flesh that can easily be grated. Its flavor, while also quite pungent, isn’t as strong as galangal’s. Instead it is mildly spicy and just a tad sweet.

3 Recipes That Use Ginger