Galangal Root: Facts, Nutrition, Health Benefits, and Uses

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galangal rootIt may look like ginger, and even act a little like turmeric. However, galangal root is its own super herb with lots of fantastic health benefits associated with it.

Galangal root is part of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae), and it is native to Thailand, China, and Indonesia. Although it is a popular herb in Thai cuisine, at the same time it does an excellent job at reducing inflammation and fighting major diseases, especially different forms of cancer.

Not only that, but this cooking spice contains antioxidant, antibacterial, and antifungal qualities. It also supports digestion and brain health.

The following article will explore the interesting history and facts about galangal root, while also delving into its amazing health benefits and uses. We will also explore the difference between galangal and other popular root herbs.

Facts and History About Galangal Root

Thai food lovers may know the popular Thai soup dish called tom ka gai. That peculiar flavor in it is galangal root. Many people describe its flavor as citrus-like and earthy, along with a spicy kick. However, galangal doesn’t leave you with a lasting burning sensation, but instead, it hits you then immediately disappears.

In Indonesia it is called laos, while in the Philippines it is known as langkawas; in Manipuri, it is kanghu; in Myanmar, it is pa de kaw, and in Cambodia it is romdeng. It is also important to note that there are four main types of galangal, including lesser galangal (Alphinia officinarum), greater galangal (Alpinia galanga), Chinese ginger or fingerroot (Boesenbergia rotunda), and sand ginger, kencur, or black galangal (Kaempferia galanga). The galangals are also called Thai ginger or blue ginger. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the name for dried galangal root is gao liang jiang.

Galangal root has been used in Ayurvedic medicine and TCM since ancient times. From at least before 1000 AD, it has been cultivated in China. In the late 11th and 12th centuries, a German philosopher and medieval Christian mystic named Hildegard of Bingen had called galangal “the spice of life” as one of her favorite remedies for various health problems.

In the 13th century, galangal was imported from Asia to England and Northern Europe, and it soon became a popular cooking spice and medicine. It was used for various things, including nasal infections and tea for horses in Europe. In 1898, galangal root was included in a book of herbs used in American medical practice called the King’s American Dispensatory.

Today, galangal is used to make certain vinegars, while it is also used as a base for many types of liquor in Russia. Perhaps the most interesting fact about galangal root is that may be quite effective against termites, according to research published in the Journal of Insect Science in 2015.

Galangal Nutrition

Galangal is chock full of powerful compounds. For instance, it contains methyl cinnamate, eugenol, volatile oil, and volatile diarylheptanoids called galangol. There are also resins, tannins, starch, gingerol, and flavonoids like Kaempferide, galangin, and galangin-3-methyl ether.

As for other galangal nutrition facts, it is low in calories, while containing some carbohydrates, protein, fat, fiber, and vitamin C.

The following is some nutritional information for one serving of galangal root or 100 grams of the root.

Nutrient Amount Daily Value
Calories 149 N/A
Carbohydrates 15 g N/A
Fiber 2.0 g N/A
Protein 1.0 g N/A
Total Fat 1.0 g N/A
Vitamin C 5.4 g 9.00%

* N/A—Not Applicable

How Galangal Helps Fight Cancer

Most scientific research on galangal focuses on greater galangal and lesser galangal plant species. The most impressive of the health benefits of galangal is its ability to fight and potentially prevent various tumors and cancers. The research details positive results where galangal is effective against several cancer types.

1. Leukemia

Jamaican researchers exposed a galangal liquid extract to acute monocytic leukemia cells to find a natural treatment that wouldn’t cause dangerous side effects like chemotherapy. The study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food in 2013 suggested that the galangal liquid extract could be a potential leukemia cure.

2. Melanoma

A study published in The Scientific World Journal in 2013 found that three galangal root compounds would stop the growth of new melanoma (skin cancer) cells.

3. Gastric Cancer

A 2014 study published in the Iranian Journal of Cancer Prevention found that a galangal liquid extract would significantly destroy lots of gastric cancer cells after two days in a lab test.

4. Colon Cancer

A study published in the journal Experimental Biology and Medicine in 2013 found that galangal can cause cell death on two types of colon cancer cells.

5. Pancreatic Cancer

A 2017 study published in the journal Archives of Pharmacal Research found that galangal compounds would stop the growth of new cancer cells while suppressing gene pathways responsible for expanding the impact of pancreatic cancer cells.

6. Breast Cancer

A 2014 study published in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that a galangal extract would produce cell death in the human breast cancer cell line MCF-7, without harming healthy breast cells MRC-5. Other studies show that galangal can stimulate cell death in breast cancer cells.

7. Liver Cancer

A study published in the journal Cancer Cell International in 2015 found that galangal extracted compounds would reduce the spread of HepG2 liver cancer cells while stopping the cells from attaching to healthy cells.

8. Bile Duct Cancer

Although not that common in the U.S., bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma) impacts people mostly in tropical and sub-tropical regions like Thailand.

A 2017 study published in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that the kaempferol rhizome extract from galangal exhibited anti-cholangiocarcinoma activity in mice without any noticeable side effects.

Other Health Benefits of Galangal Root

What are the other galangal health benefits? The antioxidants in galangal are surprisingly used to preserve meat products. Interestingly, the antibacterial effect of galangal can help fight several food-infecting bacteria, including E. coli (Escherichia coli), staphylococcus, salmonella, listeria, and Clostridium.

When cooking shellfish with galangal, you may also inhibit the impact of the bacteria called Vibrio, which affects undercooked shellfish like oysters. Galangal may also prevent stomach ulcers caused by H. pylori (Helicobacter pylori) bacteria. The herb also has the ability to eliminate H. pylori altogether.

The following are four other reasons galangal benefits your health.

1. Benefits Digestion

The most common and oldest effect of galangal is its effect on an upset stomach, especially in Ayurvedic medicine and Asian cultures. It will also treat diarrhea, vomiting, and even hiccups.

2. Reduces Inflammation

A cell-signaling protein called cytokine found in the body is known as tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), which can contribute to fatal diseases with chronic inflammation when over-stimulated. A phytonutrient in galangal suppresses TNF-alpha activity and may help decrease inflammation in the body.

A study published in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatology in 2001 found that galangal may help decrease inflammation associated with arthritis. Results of the study found that the combination of galangal and ginger extract significantly lower knee pain and the need for medications.

3. Supports Brain Health

A compound from galangal root called ACA (1’-acetoxychavicol acetate) may be responsible for its brain-protecting effects, and some research suggests it can reduce some forms of age-related cognitive degeneration. A phytonutrient in galangal also suppresses TNF-alpha activity, which may fight depression.

4. Improves Sperm Count

Galangal root may help promote male fertility. A study published in the Iranian Journal of Reproductive Medicine in 2014 found that galangal root increases sperm count and motility, and may enhance the overall health of sperm. Another 2014 published in PLOS One found that the number of motile sperm tripled the amount of the placebo when galangal rhizome and pomegranate fruit extract were given to 34 healthy men.

Galangal vs. Turmeric and Ginger

Galangal is often compared to two other popular medicinal and culinary roots—turmeric and ginger. This is not a surprise as each root has cancer-fighting properties, but galangal’s abilities against cancer are considered the most extensive. All three can also decrease inflammation and offer digestive support.

Although there is no current evidence that galangal can manage pain or fight diabetes, both turmeric and ginger are able to do so. Galangal and turmeric also promote brain health through the ability to suppress TNF-alpha.

Galangal promotes increased sperm count, turmeric benefits heart health, and ginger benefits weight loss. All three have benefits for digestion; however, although galangal is not recommended for peptic ulcer disease or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), ginger and turmeric are used for both conditions.

How Use and Cook Galangal

In general, galangal root requires tropical environments to thrive, but it may also grow in temperate climates when protected from frost. For planting, galangal rhizomes are placed about eight inches apart during the early spring. For harvesting, some of the outer rhizomes are gently removed rather digging up the plant. It takes about a year to the plant to fully mature before it is ready for harvest.

For optimal freshness, leave its skin on until you are ready to use it. It stores well in the refrigerator for several weeks, or you can dry or freeze it to extend its shelf life. You can use both the dried rhizomes and fresh herb for cooking.

Want to know how to use galangal? One way is to chop the roots and use them in a decoction. It can also be ground into a powder for supplements, or minced or chopped for various dishes. You can use it to season many types of meat, fish dishes, and vegetables, while it is also an important ingredient in many spice blends. Although you can use it for curry and soups, it is a good idea to experiment with it to see how you prefer to use it.

To make galangal tea, simply use a teaspoon of coarsely ground galangal root in a cup of boiling water, and steep for five to 10 minutes.

Final Thoughts on Galangal

Although it is part of the ginger family, there are so many wonderful ways that galangal is unique all on its own. It does an especially impressive job at fighting various cancers, including liver cancer, breast cancer, bile duct cancer, colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, melanoma, leukemia, and gastric cancer. Galangal also helps decrease inflammation, support brain health, ease digestive issues, increase sperm count and motility, and fight fungal and bacterial infections.

It has also been praised for centuries as an ancient herb. With that said, like most herbs, it is important to avoid using it when pregnant or nursing unless monitored closely by your doctor. Greater galangal may also increase stomach acid, and therefore people with peptic ulcer disease or GERD should avoid this root unless recommended by your doctor.

Does galangal cause an allergic reaction? Actually, galangal is a hypoallergenic food, suggested to reduce the intensity of allergic reactions in certain texts. As a result, you likely won’t experience allergic symptoms after consumption.

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