I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of galangal substitutes to find the best one for every cooking occasion. Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry swap, or want a substitute that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
Galangal paste is the best substitute if you can’t buy fresh or frozen galangal root. Dried or ground galangal is easier to find, but has a milder flavor. Other rhizomes, like ginger or turmeric, have a different flavor but can add a similar depth and complexity to your dish.
I made small batches of a simple beef stir-fry to put several different galangal substitutes to the test.
Galangal is a rhizome that comes from the Zingiberaceae plant family and can be thought of as ginger’s more citrusy relative. It’s a popular ingredient in many Asian cuisines, thanks to its blend of tart notes and hints of pine and pepper.
This flavor is so unique that it’s difficult to completely replace it, but that didn’t stop me trying! Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Substitutes||How to Substitute||Verdict|
|Galangal paste||1-inch knob = 1/2 tsp of galangal paste||9/10|
|Dried/ground galangal||1-inch knob = 1 tsp of dried/ground galangal||8/10|
|Lemongrass||1-inch knob = 1 stalk of lemongrass||6/10|
|Kaffir lime leaves||1-inch knob = 4 kaffir lime leaves||6/10|
|Ginger||1-inch knob = 3/4-inch knob||6/10|
|Turmeric||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||5/10|
|Other galangal varieties||Add to taste depending on strength||–|
Galangal paste is a superb alternative to fresh or frozen galangal. Its flavor profile mirrors fresh galangal well: a potent citrusy tang, coupled with subtle peppery and piney notes. But it’s a lot more concentrated, so you don’t need to use as much.
I also felt that it was missing the vibrant freshness you get from the root.
But I can definitely live with this, considering how convenient the paste is. All you need to do is pop open a jar and scoop the paste straight into your dish (the paste will last around 4 weeks once you’ve opened it).
Psst… check the international aisle of your local supermarket if you can’t find this in the regular spices section.
How to substitute: Replace a 1-inch galangal knob with 1/2 tsp of galangal paste.
No luck finding galangal paste? Your next best bet is the dried or ground form of galangal.
Dried galangal isn’t as intensely flavored as the fresh version, and its citrusy notes are more prominent, but it will still add the same depth and distinct aroma to your dish.
I rehydrated my dried galangal in warm water before using it in my stir-fry dish to give it a softer texture. But if you’re making a soup, you can toss the dried galangal straight into the broth. I recommend adding the galangal slightly earlier than you would with the fresh stuff, so its flavor has longer to infuse.
Pro tip: if you have ground galangal, this works best in curries or stews, where bolder ingredients can hide the muddy texture it brings.
How to substitute: Replace a 1-inch galangal knob with 1 tsp of dried/ground galangal.
Right off the bat, lemongrass isn’t an exact flavor substitute for galangal. But it’s a flavor enhancer that’s much easier to find in most stores.
It has a refreshing lemony flavor that mimics galangal’s citrus notes. But lemongrass lacks the piney and peppery notes that make galangal unique. To make up for this, I added an extra dash of freshly cracked pepper to my stir fry.
It wasn’t perfect, but my stir-fry turned out delicious!
How to substitute: Replace a 1-inch galangal knob with 1 stalk of lemongrass.
Kaffir lime leaves
Kaffir lime leaves may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about galangal substitutes, but they work well in a lot of Thai dishes (where you’d commonly find galangal). Like lemongrass, they have a bright, citrusy flavor similar to the citrusy flavor of galangal, but none of the peppery-ness.
For best results, crush the leaves before adding them to your dish. This small step releases the flavorful oils and aromas of the leaves. And when it comes to cooking with them, think of them like bay leaves. I added the leaves whole to my stir fry and removed them just before serving.
Kaffir lime leaves are best fresh, but you can also use frozen ones if this is all you can find. Have a look in your local Indian or Asian grocery store.
How to substitute: Replace a 1-inch galangal knob with 3-4 kaffir lime leaves.
Some dishes that call for galangal will already have lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves in, which means you can’t use them to replace the galangal.
In this case, ginger is your best bet. The flavor you get from ginger is pretty different to galangal, but if you just need something to bring another layer to your dish it’s fine.
Ginger is spicy with a hint of sweetness and a warming aroma, with none of the sharp citrus notes of galangal. To bring it slightly closer to the flavor of galangal, I added a splash of lemon juice to my stir-fry.
Andother plus for ginger is that it’s cheap and easy to find (you might already have some sitting in your kitchen).
How to substitute: Replace a 1-inch galangal knob with a 3/4-inch knob of ginger.
Turmeric is very similar to ginger in that it’s far from a mirror image of galangal in terms of flavor, but you can use it in the same ways as galangal and it will add depth to your food.
Turmeric boasts a deep earthy taste paired with a gentle peppery kick. Like ginger, it has no zesty flavor, but you can pair it with a spritz of lemon or lime juice to get around this.
An important factor to consider when using turmeric is its intense color. Just a small pinch will turn your dish yellow (think pilau rice or a yellow curry).
Pro tip: Turmeric will stain very easily, so take care not to get it on your clothes or any fabric.
How to substitute: Replace galangal with turmeric in a 1:1 ratio.
Different types of galangal
There are actually two main types of galangal: galangal and lesser galangal.
Galangal is native to Indonesia and used in a lot of Thai dishes. Lesser galangal is native to China and is (to confuse everyone) actually the stronger of the two with more potent peppery notes and a distinct lemony undertone.
Lesser galangal is also sometimes called fingerroot because of its finger-like shape.
I would use the two ingredients interchangeably, but adjust the amount based on how strong the flavor is (purists would say you can’t swap one for the other, but oh well!).
How to substitute: Adjust the quantity of different varieties of galangal based on taste.
Substitutes to Avoid
I came across loads of suggestions for galangal substitutes while I was researching, but not all of them worked out in my tests.
For example, I saw horseradish suggested a few times, but horseradish has a very strong heat that I felt overwhelmed my stir fry. And the flavor doesn’t work well in the sorts of dishes you’d normally find galangal in.
Pepper was also recommended, but using it alone in my stir fry didn’t add anywhere near as much depth as flavor as galangal would have. It works better when mixed with another ingredient, like ginger or lemongrass, to round out the flavor.
BEST Galangal Substitutes + 2 To Avoid
- ½ tbsp galangal paste
- 1 heaping tbsp dried/ground galangal
- 1½ stalk of lemongrass
- 4 kaffir lime leaves
- ¾ inch knob of ginger
- 1 inch knob of turmeric
- 1 inch knob of fingerroot
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen galangal substitutes at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.