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GALANGAL
Languas galanga, Syn. Alpinia galanga [L.] Willd.
Family : Zingiberaceae
Other names: Galanga; greater galangal; Siamese ginger
Description
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.
Botany
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 and meat).
Culinary use
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 spice.