What is Galangal?
Living in Thailand, I am fortunate enough to dine on the country’s incredible cuisine on a daily basis. Galangal is a staple ingredient in a number of Thai dishes but I must admit I confused it with ginger for the longest time. This is not surprising since to the untrained eye, the herb looks a lot like ginger. However, galangal has its own distinctive flavor being citrusy and simultaneously spicy.
Galangal is used in many of Thailand’s most popular dishes including tom yam gung and tom kaa gai. The herb belongs to the same family as ginger and grows in many parts of the Asian continent.
Like its cousin ginger, galangal also known as langkawas has a wide range of outstanding health benefits. Recent studies have found that it can help reduce bodily inflammation while there is a growing body of exciting evidence to suggest it can help fight several forms of cancer.
Interested yet? If you are, then please read on to find out just how much this wonderful herb can help your health and how you can add it to your diet.
There are actually three different kinds of galangal :
- The lesser galangal (Alpinia officinarum)
- The greater galangal (Alpinia galanga)
- The light galangal (Alpinia speciosa)
- Black galangal (Kaempferia galanga)
The bulk of the research to date has focused on the lesser and greater species of the herb.
Nutritional Information and Composition
A single serving (100 grams) of galangal root contains the following :
15 grams of carbohydrates
1 gram of protein
1 gram of fat
2 grams of fiber
5.4 grams of vitamin C representing 9% of RDA
According to research, galangal contains a number of active compounds. These include :
- α-fenchyl acetate
- 1’-acetoxychavicol acetate
Traditional Uses of Galangal
Galangal is used in different ways depending on the country. In the majority of South East Asia, Fresh galanga is preferred and dried langkawas is rarely used. In Indonesia however, powder made from dried galangal is often used.
In traditional Indian medicine or Ayurveda, the rhizomes are used to treat a wide range of conditions including indigestion, dysentery, colic, cancer, respiratory disease and skin disease. It is also used as a remedy for bad breath and as a body deodorant.
These days, there is growing interest in the health benefit of the herb. It has been widely studied for its ability to treat inflammation and cancer and many other conditions.
Health Benefits of Galangal
The past decade or so has seen a growing interest in the ability of galangal (langkawas) to fight cancer. This interest continues to rise with more and more studies demonstrating that the herb has exciting potential to fight and even prevent a number of different cancers.
Leukemia : One study published in 2013 found that extracts from lesser galangal leaf had excellent
anticancer activities against leukemia cells. (2)
Melanoma : A Taiwanese team looked at the effects on skin cancer of several compounds isolated from galangal root. The researchers found that all three of the compounds tested had antiproliferative effects meaning that they inhibited the growth of cancer cells. (3)
Pancreatic Cancer : A study published in 2017 tested a number of compounds found in galangal against pancreatic cancer. The researchers found that these compounds prevented new cells from growing and prevented them from spreading. (4)
Colon Cancer : A study published in 2013 found that galangin – a flavonoid found in galangin caused cell death or apoptosis to human colon cancer cells. (5)
Liver Cancer : Several studies have found that compounds extracted from galangal were effective against liver cancer cells. (6) One study found that when 1′-acetoxychavicol acetate extracted from galangal was used in combination with conventional therapies, it induced apoptosis very effectively (7)
Breast Cancer : An Iranian study published in 2014 found that a galngal extract caused cell death or apoptosis in breast cancer cells without harming healthy cells. (8) Another study conducted in China had similar results. (9)
Bile Duct Cancer : This uncommon but aggressive form of cancer affects more people in sub-tropical areas. Researchers found that kaempferol extracted from galangal helped prolong the life spans of mice with this form of cancer. (10)
Gastric Cancer : Another Iranian study published in 2014 found liquid extracts of galangal effective against this form of cancer cell. (11)
Chronic inflammation is one of the root causes of many serious diseases including heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s. Research into the effects of galangal have demonstrated that this amazing herb has excellent anti-inflammatory properties that can help tackle a wide range of inflammatory conditions.
According to research, galangal contains a certain phytonutrient that suppresses TNF-alpha activity helping to reduce levels of inflammation throughout a person’s body. (12)
Studies have also demonstrated that galangal or langkawas has the ability to reduce inflammation associated with the following conditions :
Arthritis : A study published in 2001 examined the effects of an extract containing both galangal and ginger root on knee pain in arthritis patients. The researchers found that those who took the extract experienced significant pain reduction and less need for medication. (13)
Mastitis : Galangal contains a phytonutrient called kaempferol. Studies have demonstrated that this compound can help reduce the nipple inflammation experienced by many women while breastfeeding. (13)
Respiratory Distress : Studies have also revealed that the anti-inflammatory actions of galangal can help reduce inflammation caused by lung injury. (14)
Galangal and extracts made with the herb also have outstanding antimicrobial actions. According to studies, the herb is effective against various strains of bacteria including E, coli, staphylococcus, salmonella, listeria and clostridium. Studies have demonstrated that it is effective against bacterial strains which are resistant to conventional antibiotics. (14)
Another study found that galangal was a useful weapon against H. Pylori – a bacteria carried by a large percentage of people worldwide. According to research, galangal not only helps destroy the bacteria itself but can even help protect against the stomach ulcers which often occur because of this nasty bacteria. (15)
Animal studies have also revealed that galangal could help boost male fertility.
One Iranian study published in 2014 found that it improved overall sperm count as well as sperm motility or the ability of sperm to move efficiently. (16)
Another study conducted in Denmark examined the effects of galangal combined with pomegranate extract on sperm count and motility. They found that treatment with the extract had a significantly positive effect on sperm motility and sperm count. (17)
Galangal root also contains compounds that can have a positive effect on various cognitive functions. According to research, one of these compounds called ACA can protect the brain from age related degeneration and may have a role to play against disease like Alzheimer’s. (18)
Because of its ability to reduce inflammation, galangal could also help fight other brain related conditions including depression. According to research, chronic inflammation may be a factor in depression and its ability to regulate TNF-alpha might help keep inflammation in check and reduce the risk of the condition. (19)
Modern medicine has started to prove that the herb has a number of exciting benefits. However, one of the most common traditional uses of galangal is to help boost digestive health.
The root has long been used to help improve digestive health, settle the stomach and soothe stomach upset. In Asia and the Indian system of Ayurveda, the root is used to treat a range of digestive complaints including diarrhea, indigestion, stomach upset and vomiting.
Galangal is packed with antioxidants and by now we all know the importance of getting as many antioxidants into our systems as possible.
Dietary antioxidants that we get from fresh fruit, veg and herbs help neutralize the damage done by free radicals. Also known as oxidative stress, free radical damage can have a devastating effect on the body and is at the heart of many serious illnesses. As well as protecting us from disease, antioxidants like the ones found in galangal can also have an anti-aging effect on your appearance and keep your skin looking healthier and more robust.
Aside from its many uses internally, galangal is also used to help bolster your skin’s health. It has a number of powerful antioxidants that can help improve the skin’s appearance and delay the signs of aging. A juice made from lankawas can also be applied topically to treat a broad range of common skin conditions.
According to traditional use and research, galangal can help boost circulation and remove bodily toxins helping nutrients to reach the tissues. The powerful antioxidants found in the herb can prevent free radical damage and help preserve your skin’s health and beauty.
Fresh galangal juice can also be applied to the skin to help treat burns. When applied to burnt skin, it helps relieve pain and promote faster healing. You can apply the juice of fresh galangal as a paste or simply rub in some freshly cut slices of the herb into the affected part of your body.
Galangal also has excellent antiseptic and cleansing properties that will help keep your skin clean and free of bacteria and dirt. It is considered to be a good natural treatment for acne because of its excellent antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Galangal has traditionally been used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat the hair and conditions related to the scalp. Some proponents even claim it can encourage hair growth.
Because galangal stimulates the circulation of blood to the scalp, it can boost the supply of nutrients to the follicles helping the hair to grow stronger and healthier. The nutrients and fatty acids found in fresh galangal can do wonders for the hair, especially weak or thinning hair. You can mix a little galangal juice with some jojoba oil and apply it to your hair and scalp every few days to stimulate hair growth and boost its health.
Galangla can also help prevent and treat common scalp conditions like dandruff. The herb has excellent anti-fungal properties that can help treat the condition as well as anti-inflammatory properties that can help combat irritation and redness.
How to Use Galangal
Depending on where you live, galangal root may be readily available fresh. After purchasing the root, do not remove the skin until you are about to use it. It should keep for a number of weeks in your refrigerator but you can also freeze it or dry it to extend its shelf life.
If you are planning to use it in cooking, there are any number of ways to use it. It has a unique and pungent flavor that many people enjoy. Add some of the chopped or sliced root to spicy soups and stews and see what you think.
Another way to use the herb is to chop the roots up fine and use them to make a decoction. Alternatively, you can grind the dried roots into a powder to make your own supplements, use to make a tea or add to your cooking.
Galnagal Vs Turmeric and Ginger
Galangal is very similar in appearance to other tasty and highly beneficial roots like turmeric and ginger. They actually have many of the same properties including the ability to fight inflammation, prevent cancer and boost digestive health. However there are also differences.
Both ginger and turmeric are known to treat diabetes and to kill pain naturally, No studies have demonstrated that galangal can achieve these effects. Studies done to date also show that only turmeric has cardiovascular benefits. Galangal is alone in improving fertility while ginger may help a person to lose weight.
Although all three roots have digestive benefits, there is some evidence that galangal increases stomach acid levels making it unsuitable for people with ulcers or GERD.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the health benefits of galangal?
Galangal has excellent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties as well as antimicrobioal actions that give it a wide range of potential uses. Research into its anti-cancer effects is ongoing with early results suggesting it may have a major role to play in combating the disease. It also helps boos digestive health, treats arthritis, boosts fertility and improves cognitive health. Galangal can also do a great deal of good for your skin and may even help improve hair growth.
What does galangal smell like?
Galangal has a very pleasant aroma and flavor. It tastes and smells warm and spicy with a hint of sweetness. Dried galangal smells sweeter than the fresh variety and has a fragrance similar to cinnamon.
What is the difference between ginger and galangal?
Galangal and ginger both look very similar but when it comes to cooking, there is a big difference in their taste meaning the herbs can not be used interchangeably. Galangal has a spicy, citrusy spicy flavor with a decent amount of sweetness. ginger is much more pungent and is not very sweet at all.
As regards their medicinal value, there are some similarities but also a number of differences. Both ginger and galangal have excellent anti-inflammatory properties and can both combat cancer and boost digestive health. Studies suggest that ginger is effective against pain and can help treat diabetes but there is no evidence that galangal can do the same thing.
While galangal is a commonly consumed food, there are still some precautions that you should be aware of.
- Pregnant women should avoid using herbal remedies including galangal unless they have approval from their doctor.
- Galangal may increase the level of acid in your stomach so people with GERD, acid reflux or peptic ulcers should avoid consuming it.
- If in doubt, speak to your doctor before using this or any other herbal remedy.
- Galangal is a member of the same family as ginger and originates in China and Thailand.
- It has a spicy flavor but lacks the capsaicin which makes many chilly so hot to taste.
- Galangal has been well studies over recent years especially for its ability to fight cancer.
- Studies have also revealed that the herb can combat inflammation, boost digestion, improve fertility and support brain health.
- While galangal looks a lot like ginger and turmeric, it has a distinct flavor and a number of different medicinal properties.
- You can use it in your cooking or use it to make a healthy tea or decoction.