“I bought what I thought was peeled ginger root in Chinatown yesterday,” says crawfish. “It was paler than usual but shape-wise looked exactly like ginger. It was very woody when I cut it but I cooked with it anyway. It didn’t taste like anything in the dish so after dinner I tried a little tiny sliver raw. WOW! It just about blew my head off. This incredibly intense pitch-like taste, like retsina times 1000. Then at the end it got very hot. I spit it out but my husband said it burned all the way down. … Anyone know what it is? … It was like spicy turpentine!” says crawfish.
“There are several rhizomes in the ginger family that are called ‘galangal,'” says cheesemaestro. “I’m betting that what you bought is greater galangal, which has pale flesh. (It’s the one used in the famous Thai soup, tom kha gai.) It has a piney taste when bitten into that is quite unlike ginger. There’s also lesser galangal, but that has much darker flesh. Finally, there is kencur, which, confusingly, is also sometimes called lesser galangal. It has a reddish peel, ligher colored flesh and a camphorous flavor. It’s used mostly in Malaysian and Indonesian cooking.”