Lesser Ginger: Flavor Profile
Lesser ginger – which is also known as lesser galangal or Kra-Chai – is a ginger-like root with a distinctive piquant, spicy-sweet flavor. Widely used in China and Southeast Asia, lesser ginger is a member of the ginger family and has a similar flavor to ginger. Yet, lesser ginger’s taste is tangier with notes of pepper and mild heat.
Lesser ginger has many uses in Asian cooking. In Thai cooking, galangal is used in seafood dishes, as the piquant flavor balances and freshens fish and shellfish. The gingery flavor is also popular in curries.
Cooking with Lesser Ginger
Galangal has a distinctive flavor and aroma. There are notes of ginger, yet the flavor is spicier with a mild tang. The root’s bold flavor provides a burst of flavor, as well as well as crunchy texture to a variety of Asian and Eastern European dishes. Common uses include:
- Soups – Lesser ginger is widely used in many traditional Asian soups, especially hot and sour soups. You’ll find it in tom yum and tom kha gai – which are Thai and Lao spicy-sour soups.
- Herbal Spirits – In Russia and Poland, galangal is used as a spice for herbal vodkas and liqueurs.
- Curries – The spicy, peppery flavor of lesser ginger is a natural pair for curry. It’s used in many traditional Thai curries.
Galangal is available as a fresh root, which resembles ginger. Yet, it’s often difficult to find outside of Asia fresh. More common, especially in the U.S. and Europe, is powdered lesser ginger, which has a milder flavor.
Lesser Ginger History
Galangal has long been used in Asian cultures and cuisines as a medicinal herb and spice. The root was found in many ancient cultures, and is a primarily herb used in Ayuvedic and Thai folk medicine. It was prescribed for many conditions, including stomach aches, alleviate pain, and for vomiting.
During the Spice Trade era, lesser ginger was widely used in Europe, and the root was believed to be an aphrodisiac. The spice was revered for its healing properties. The German mystic Hildegard von Bingen called galangal the “spice of life,” and she praised it as a digestive aid and for treating pain. Unfortunately, the root’s popularity fizzled in Europe; today, it’s uncommon in western European cooking and traditional medicine.
In Thailand and Indonesia, lesser ginger has long been used as a seasoning, and it’s preferred to regular ginger there. The herb is used in many traditional dishes, including tom yum and curries. The plant is widely found in all its forms in Thailand and Indonesia, the world’s two largest lesser ginger producers.
Cultivation of Lesser Ginger
Known as Alpinia officinarum, lesser ginger is a member of the ginger family. The plant grows as a small shrub, growing to a height of about five feet. Lesser ginger plants feature long, thin green fronds, and the plant is often mistaken for ginger.
Like ginger, Kra-Chai has a bulky, finger-like root, or rhizome. When harvested the roots are typically reddish-white inside with a brown coating. And they have a pungent aroma, that’s sweet and peppery. The rhizomes are harvested and sold fresh; you’ll find them in nearly any Thai produce market.
Yet, they’re commonly sold in powder form in Europe and the U.S. The pods are typically dehydrated, and then ground into a fine powder, or sold whole as a dried pod.
About Our Lesser Ginger
Burma Spice sources its lesser ginger from Thailand. Thailand has been producing lesser ginger for many years. Thanks to the country’s tropical climate, the galangal produced in Thailand tends to have a more robust flavor, that’s spicier and tangier.
We work with small farms in Thailand’s Buriram province, where there’s a network of boutique farming operations. Located in the country’s northeast, Buriram is an agricultural region that produces many ginger root varietals.
Our dried lesser ginger can be rehydrated in warm water.