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Have you ever tried galangal, the ginger-like root with a citrusy flavor? Also known as Thai ginger, this spice has been used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for centuries. The most popular variety is Alpinia officinarum, or lesser galangal. Both the dry root and rhizome may help decrease inflammation, protect against diabetes, and reduce oxidative stress (via Pharmacognosy Review). Other varieties, such as Alpinia galangal and Boesenbergia rotunda, are less common in the U.S., but they’re widely used in traditional Southeast Asian cuisine.
Galangal goes well in Thai curry paste, fish cakes, chicken soup, or even homemade ice cream. “Its skin is smoother and paler than ginger, and the inside is much harder,” registered dietician Natalie Rizzo told Well + Good. “And while ginger is a bit spicy, galangal is actually much stronger. The flavor is earthy and extra citrusy with some peppery notes.”
Its nutritional profile is quite impressive, too. Like ginger, this root boasts large amounts of flavonoids, especially chrysin, apigenin, quercetin, and kaempferol. It’s also an excellent source of terpenes, phytosterols, and other antioxidants that support overall health, according to Pharmacognosy Review.
With that being said, here’s why you should include galangal in your diet.
Galangal fights inflammation and oxidative stress
As mentioned, galangal is loaded with flavonoids and other bioactive compounds. These naturally occurring chemicals exhibit antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, according to research published in Pharmacognosy Review. Moreover, they may protect against cancer and kill disease-causing bacteria.
Due to its anti-inflammatory action, galangal can also reduce joint pain and swelling. In a clinical trial, researchers asked 247 patients with knee osteoarthritis to take a standardized extract of ginger and galangal for six weeks (via Arthritis and Rheumatism). The treatment group experienced a greater reduction in knee pain compared to the placebo group.
Rich in antioxidants, galangal helps target free radical damage and may lower your risk of disease. Terpenes, for instance, can reduce the symptoms of depression and diabetes, notes a 2019 review published in the journal Medicinal Plants. Anecdotal evidence suggests that terpenes may also relieve digestive discomfort and boost immune function, among other health benefits. Phytosterols, a class of antioxidants in galangal and other plants, may lower cholesterol levels and improve heart health, per the Cleveland Clinic.
Galangal may also suppress tumor growth
This ginger-like root may also suppress tumor growth and prevent cancer cells from spreading. In one study, galangal was shown effective against gastric cancer cells (per the Iranian Journal of Cancer Prevention). Its effects appear to be dose-dependent. Researchers attribute these potential benefits to the bioactive compounds in galangal. Another study suggests that galangin, a naturally occurring compound in the root, may destroy breast cancer cells by activating certain signaling pathways in the body, reports Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy.
The above studies have been conducted in vitro or in a lab-controlled environment. Therefore, their findings may not apply to humans. More research is needed to determine the safety and efficacy of galangal for medicinal purposes. So far, we know that it’s effective in the treatment of pain and inflammation, but its other benefits are subject to debate.
All in all, galangal can be a healthy addition to your meals, offering both flavor and nutrition. Grate or mince it, and then add it to salads, soups, stews, or sauces. Mix it into smoothies, or crush the fresh root and use it in tea. Have a sweet tooth? Add grated galangal to pie filling, lime cake, or peanut butter cups. You may also use galangal powder, but the flavor is less intense.