If you're a fan of Thai food—as in, the closest joint's delivery guy knows more about your life than your mom does—chances are you've consumed something called galangal, an essential ingredient used in Thai curry pastes and soups like tom kha gai. As it turns out, the health benefits of this unsung root may be quietly justifying your regular takeout expenses.
Galangal, as its appearance suggests, is in the ginger family. "It's known as Thai ginger because it looks like ginger; however, it's actually quite different," says Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, of Nutrition à la Natalie. "Its skin is smoother and paler than ginger, and the inside is much harder. And while ginger is a bit spicy, galangal is actually much stronger. The flavor is earthy and extra citrusy with some peppery notes."
Still, galangal does resemble its more famous family member in some important ways. It has anti-inflammatory properties as well as additional health benefits that resemble those of ginger and turmeric.
Read on to learn why you should be eating galangal, where you can buy it, and how best to add it to your home-cooked meals.
Why it's good for you
"Galangal is rich in iron, vitamins A and C, flavonoids, and phytonutrients," says Well+Good Council member McKel Hill of Nutrition Stripped. "It eases nausea, decreases bloating and indigestion, and some studies show it may help combat cancer."
Rizzo agrees. "It has some anti-inflammatory effects, and some research indicates that it might prevent the growth of tumor cells." It also may boast an unexpected fertility-boosting benefit: "Another animal study suggests that it may increase sperm count," she says.
How it's used in cooking
Galangal is, as mentioned, a critical ingredient in many Thai dishes, but this isn't the only culture which uses its flavors. "Galangal is used in Thai, Malaysian, and Indonesian cooking, usually in the sliced or powdered form because the flesh is too hard for grating," says Rizzo. It works well with seafood, she adds. "The strong flavor is said to cover up fishy flavors quite well, so it’s often used in fish stews or any fish dish." Hill notes that galangal can also be found in some Thai desserts.
Where you can buy it
Galangal is available fresh or powdered, says Rizzo. "The fresh one is more pungent, so you would need to use less," she says. "Any Asian supermarket should sell fresh galangal, or a natural food store may have either version. You can also always find it online." The only downside to your newly-stocked pantry: not as much face time with your fave delivery guy.
Did you know that cheese may also be an anti-inflammatory? Or that this super green boasts even more benefits than turmeric? Now you do.
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