Galangal powder is made from the dried and ground rhizome of the galangal plant, which is native to Southeast Asia. With its sharp, peppery, citrusy flavor, galangal powder is a staple in many Thai, Indonesian, Malaysian and other Southeast Asian cuisines.
Why Galangal Powder is Hard to Find
Galangal is part of the ginger family Zingiberaceae, which also includes ginger, turmeric and cardamom. However, it has never become as popular outside of Southeast Asia as its cousin ginger.
There are a few reasons why galangal powder can be challenging to locate:
- Not widely cultivated or exported: Galangal is mostly grown domestically in Southeast Asian countries for local use. Not much galangal is exported to Western countries.
- Easily confused with ginger: Galangal looks very similar to ginger. Many grocery stores don't carry it since they stock regular ginger.
- Used in niche cuisines: Galangal powder is essential for Thai and other Southeast Asian recipes. But these cuisines are still considered exotic and unfamiliar in Western countries.
- Has a short shelf life: Fresh galangal rhizomes don't store well. Dried galangal powder loses its flavor and aroma quickly. This makes large-scale distribution difficult.
Due to these factors, finding galangal powder requires a trip to an Asian specialty market or ordering it online. So substitutions are often necessary when cooking Southeast Asian food.
Flavor Profile of Galangal Powder
To choose suitable galangal powder substitutes, it helps to understand the specific notes and uses of galangal:
- Pepper-like bite: Galangal has a strong peppery kick somewhat like ginger, but sharper and more intense.
- Citrus aroma: The flavor of galangal also contains bright, lemony citrus tones.
- Piney fragrance: Galangal powder has a hint of pine-like forest scent.
- Robust pungency: It provides a very bold, potent flavor compared to related spices.
- Reduces fishy odors: Galangal can overwrite undesirable seafood aromas in dishes.
- Works in both savory and sweet foods: Galangal powder seasons meat, veggies, curries, but also desserts and baked goods.
With this profile in mind, let's look at the best options for approximating the unique properties of galangal powder.
Ginger is the closest readily available substitute for galangal powder. It mimics several aspects of galangal:
- Ginger has the same spicy impact, though it lacks the subtle citrus notes.
- It works well in both sweet and savory dishes like galangal.
- Ginger is easy to find fresh in any grocery store produce section. Ground ginger powder is also widely available.
When substituting, use a 3:4 ratio of ginger to galangal powder. For example, for 1 teaspoon galangal powder, use 3/4 teaspoon ginger powder.
Since ginger is extra pungent, start with 3/4 of the galangal amount and adjust upwards if needed.
For an even closer match, add a pinch of lemon or lime zest, or a bay leaf along with the ginger. This helps replicate the citrusy aromas missing from plain ginger.
Fingerroot, also known as Chinese ginger or Thai ginger, provides another good alternative to galangal powder.
- From the same botanical family as galangal - the Zingiberaceae.
- Has a sharper, more intense ginger-like bite.
- Works well in curries, soups and seafood where galangal's flavor is key.
- Helps neutralize unpleasant fishy odors.
- Milder in aroma compared to galangal.
- Resembles a small light brown carrot more than galangal.
- Used more often medicinally in Asia.
Since fingerroot is less fragrant than galangal, use a 1:2 ratio when substituting in recipes. Replace 1 teaspoon galangal powder with 1/2 teaspoon fingerroot powder.
Bright, citrusy lemongrass makes an excellent galangal stand-in when preparing Thai or Vietnamese recipes.
- Provides strong lemon and lime flavors missing from ginger.
- Adds herbaceous fragrance reminiscent of galangal.
- Works well in soups, curries, stir fries calling for galangal.
- Dried lemongrass powder is available, but fresh lemongrass has better aroma.
Use a 1:1 substitution ratio, replacing 1 teaspoon galangal powder with 1 teaspoon minced fresh lemongrass. Or use 1/2 teaspoon dried lemongrass powder.
Black pepper offers another easy galangal alternative most cooks have on hand.
- Black pepper satisfies the peppery punch of galangal's flavor.
- Provides a sharper, spicier element compared to ginger.
- Widely used in savory Southeast Asian dishes.
- Works in curries, soups, stir fries and marinades.
Since black pepper is very potent, use sparingly - start with just 1/4 teaspoon in place of 1 teaspoon galangal powder.
For best results, freshly grind peppercorns instead of pre-ground pepper. The freshly ground version has better aroma.
Like black pepper, white pepper offers the peppery bite of galangal, but in a milder form.
- White pepper has less heat and pungency than black pepper.
- Well suited for lighter dishes where black pepper would be too spicy.
- Commonly used in Thai and Vietnamese cooking.
- Nice substitute in seafood curries, fish stews and chicken soup.
- Start with 1/8 teaspoon white pepper in place of 1 teaspoon galangal powder.
Since white pepper is quite potent, add it slowly and taste as you go until you achieve the right level of kick.
Cinnamon and Mace
Here's an unexpected but effective galangal powder substitute if you have cinnamon and mace in your pantry:
- Cinnamon provides subtle sweetness and warmth similar to galangal.
- Mace offers a delicate spicy, citrus flavor.
- Together, they closely mimic galangal's flavor notes.
- Works well in richer Southeast Asian curries and stews.
For every 1 teaspoon galangal powder, use 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon with 1/2 teaspoon mace. This combo replicates both the peppery spice and lemony aroma of galangal.
When fresh galangal rhizomes are unavailable, galangal paste provides the next best option.
- Provides pure, intensely flavored galangal taste.
- Available in jars at Asian grocers and online stores.
- Also called "Thai ginger paste" or "Laos paste".
- Works well as substitute in Thai and Indonesian recipes.
- Keeps for months refrigerated or frozen.
Substitute 1 teaspoon of galangal paste for 1 teaspoon galangal powder in recipes. Or use about 1 tablespoon paste for one 1-inch piece of fresh galangal root.
For maximum flavor, look for a paste made from 100% galangal without additives. Or make your own paste by blending chopped galangal and oil.
Here are a few more workable options for replacing galangal powder:
- Ginger powder: Replace 1 teaspoon galangal powder with 3/4 teaspoon ginger powder. Mix in a pinch of pepper or cardamom.
- Kaffir lime leaves: Provide pleasant citrus fragrance. Use 1 kaffir lime leaf per 1/2 teaspoon galangal powder.
- Turmeric powder: Adds earthiness, color and mild bitterness. Use 1 teaspoon turmeric for every 1/2 teaspoon galangal powder.
- Mustard powder: Brings sharp, pungent kick. Use 1/4 teaspoon mustard powder for 1 teaspoon galangal powder.
- Horseradish powder: Provides heat and pungency. Substitute 1/2 to 1 teaspoon per 1 teaspoon galangal powder. Start with less horseradish and add more if needed.
Key Takeaway: When regular galangal powder isn't available, ginger powder, galangal paste, lemongrass, kaffir lime and other spices can provide good alternative options. Mixing ginger with pepper, citrus or other aromatics gets closest to true galangal flavor.
Galangal Substitution Ratio Table
|Galangal Powder||Substitute||Substitute Amount|
|1 teaspoon||Ginger, fresh grated||3/4 teaspoon|
|1 teaspoon||Ginger powder||3/4 teaspoon|
|1 teaspoon||Fingerroot, fresh grated||1/2 teaspoon|
|1 teaspoon||Fingerroot powder||1/2 teaspoon|
|1 teaspoon||Lemongrass, fresh minced||1 teaspoon|
|1 teaspoon||Dried lemongrass powder||1/2 teaspoon|
|1 teaspoon||Black pepper, freshly ground||1/4 teaspoon|
|1 teaspoon||White pepper, ground||1/8 teaspoon|
|1 teaspoon||Cinnamon, ground||1/2 teaspoon|
|1 teaspoon||Mace, ground||1/2 teaspoon|
|1 teaspoon||Galangal paste||1 teaspoon|
|1 inch fresh galangal||Galangal paste||1 tablespoon|
How to Use Galangal Substitutes
Keep these tips in mind when substituting spices for galangal powder:
- Start with less of the substitute at first, and add more slowly to taste. It's easy to add too much and overwhelm the dish's other flavors.
- Combining ginger with black pepper, lime, bay leaves or lemongrass gives a more complete galangal-like flavor.
- Spices like turmeric, cinnamon and mustard powder lack the full aroma of galangal. Use more of them and be prepared for a different end result.
- Buy whole spices like peppercorns instead of pre-ground versions for better flavor. Grind them freshly before using.
- Make your own galangal paste by pulverizing fresh galangal and adding oil. Freeze leftover portions for later use.
- Look for frozen galangal root or dried galangal slices to keep on hand. Rehydrate dried galangal before using.
With the right substitute on hand, you don't have to skip those Thai or Malaysian recipes that call for hard-to-find galangal powder.
Can I use ginger instead of galangal powder?
Yes, fresh grated ginger or ginger powder makes the best and closest substitute for galangal powder. The flavor is not exactly the same, but the spicy impact is similar. Use about 3/4 teaspoon ginger for every 1 teaspoon galangal powder.
Is turmeric a good galangal substitute?
Turmeric can work in a pinch but the flavor is quite different. Turmeric has an earthy, bitter taste compared to galangal's citrus pepperiness. Use at least 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons turmeric powder for every 1 teaspoon galangal powder. Mix with other spices like ginger or black pepper.
What's the best galangal substitute for Thai curry paste?
For Thai curry pastes, replace galangal with an equal amount of chopped or grated fresh ginger, or use 3/4 as much ginger powder. You can also use lemongrass or a combo of ginger and kaffir lime leaves.
Can I use allspice or cardamom instead of galangal powder?
Allspice and green cardamom seeds can provide subtle notes reminiscent of galangal's complexity. But they lack galangal's strong bite, so add more black pepper or ginger as well. Use about 1/4 teaspoon allspice or crushed cardamom seeds with 3/4 teaspoon ginger for each teaspoon galangal powder.
Is galangal essential for Tom Yum soup?
Tom Yum's hot, sour and aromatic flavors depend on galangal. For best results, use fresh young galangal or galangal paste. Or use a mixture of ginger, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and black pepper.
Galangal powder gives an irreplaceable flavor to Southeast Asian dishes. When you can't find real galangal, ginger makes the closest substitute, paired with citrus or peppers.
Lemongrass, fingerroot, kaffir lime and spices like cinnamon, turmeric and mustard powder also work.
With the right blend, you can come close to mimicking that distinctive galangal taste.