Galangal – A medicinal and culinary powerhouse

Let’s start by breaking down what sitharathai is. It is basically part of the ginger family with its origin widely being reported as South East Asia. The binomial name for sitharathai is Alpinia officinarum, which I know sounds like a spell from the Harry Potter series. But It is more commonly called galangal.

It is interesting here to note that there are 3 plants that are called the Galangal, not just Alpinia Officinarum. Alpinia galanga and A. calcarata are also known as the Galangal, more generally as the Greater and lesser galangal. I believe that Sitharathai or Arathai may in general refer to all types of Galangal, like Urulai kilangu in tamil refers to all types of potatoes. 

According to the handbook of Herbs and spices, all three species have more or less similar properties and are used in similar ways in culinary art as well as in medicine. Galangal looks very similar to ginger but Its skin is smoother and paler than ginger root, the interior ranges from white to yellow to pink and is much harder than ginger.

Similar to ginger and turmeric, galangal can be eaten fresh or cooked and is a popular addition to many Chinese, Indonesian, Malaysian, and Thai dishes. It has a stronger taste than ginger, with an earthy aroma and a sharp citrusy almost piney flavor.The pungent taste, the heat basically comes from capsaicin present in galangal. Which is found in chili peppers, but the heat is way tolerable.

With so much to offer as benefits, it makes me wonder why it is not regularly used in our kitchens. Should we not be using it regularly? Why is it an ingredient that we resort to only when we have the flu or indigestion? Does it not make you wonder.

The truth is humans have evolved to acquire new tastes and sometimes even get addicted to them. That’s what makes you keep going back to the sugar in the cakes or the fat and salt in a pizza. But sitharathai does not lack anything when it comes to packing flavor in your dishes. Today in Indonesian dishes, Galangal has the widest uses. It is also used widely in Eastern cookeries such as Singapore, Malaya, Thailand, Indonesia, and Indo-China. It is a magical ingredient that is sliced in fine slivers for salads and sliced in thin rounds to flavor soups. It helps mask the fishiness of seafood, the heaviness, and the fattiness of chicken and red meats, thereby making them taste cleaner, more delicate, and more succulent.

They add zing to the Thai curries and a fresh zesty taste to soups and salads. 

The flavor of Galangal is beautifully accentuated by a combination of Chilli, Garlic, Tamarind, Ginger, Lemon, Lemon Grass, fennel, and coconut milk. To be honest these are flavors that are not new to us at all. But still, we don’t seem to be using it so much. I think it’s a matter of awareness and willingness to explore and adopt new flavors in our cooking. 


Of course, we can start with a simple tea. Boil some water with galangal and lemongrass. Wait for it to reduce. Now how much of the galangal is something that you should try out and figure out. Start trying with small pieces until you reach the optimum flavor that you like. Add some honey and enjoy your tea.

There’s also another recipe for milk tea or Chai latte. It’s quite common in many households to make tea with ginger. For once try replacing the ginger with Sitharathai. You might really like it.

Sitharathai Rasam can also be one of the simplest trials. Boil some sitharathai along with tamarind and other spices. The kitchen will be filled with its earthy aroma in no time. You can remove the pieces off if they are too hard and dry like you do with cinnamon or elaichi in a Biryani. Meen kulambu(Fish curry), or kari kulambu(Chicken, meat curries) and other veg stews with coconut milk are all places where Sitharathai can be a wonderful addition.

There are a million other recipes to include Galangal in salads and soups. If you are looking to push your experiments with Galangal try baking a mincemeat pie flavored by Galangal or a lemon tart with Galangal flavor. Going further you can even add it to your cocktails, a little bit of galangal in your whiskey sour or old-fashioned can certainly elevate the drink.

Recipe: Mango Sitharathai Ice cream

We don’t believe in measuring ingredients by cups. Trust your instincts and go for it. That’s how you master the art of cooking.

So here we go.

We’ll start off by boiling some fresh coconut milk with a good amount of Galangal. Bring it to a boil and switch the flame off. Leave the lid on and let the coconut milk infuse with the Galangal.

While it cools down whip up some fresh cream, until soft peaks. keep adding country sugar while you whip it until it’s sweet enough.

Now add the cooled coconut milk and a part of the mango pulp. Beat it until everything combines.

Pour the mixture into a container. Add the remaining mango pulp and swirl it up. Presentation matters right? Haha. Now don’t dive into it immediately.

Freeze it for 6-8 hrs. Restrain yourself until then.

You are ready to dive in now. Give yourself a good scoop cuz you deserve it. Go on and continue experimenting with Sitharathai in all the ways you can include it in your diet.


To know more about Sitharathai click on the link below to listen to the complete podcast on Galangal.