Galangal is an important ingredient if you are planning to make dishes from Southeast Asia. Many would say that it is as essential as lemongrass or coconut milk. Its flavors are crucial to dishes from Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia among other countries. You should do your best to get your hands on some fresh or dried galangal. If all else fails, there are a few workable alternatives. Try one of the following galangal substitutes.
Your best bet: Ginger
Ginger and galangal are related to each other and are very similar in both appearance and flavor. While their flavors are not exactly the same, they are close enough to be good substitutes for each other. In addition to their flavor similarities, ginger and galangal both have some of the same stomach-soothing properties. You should note that ginger is a much more flavorful spice than galangal, which means that you will need to use less of it. You should also note that many Asian recipes call for both spices, so you will have to use twice the amount of ginger in those cases. Galangal can be found in many Asian grocery stores, but it is not as common as ginger. Ginger can be found in the produce section of most grocery stores.
Substitute dried, ground ginger if your recipe requires galangal powder; use fresh ginger to replace fresh galangal.
Because ginger’s flavor is stronger, start by using 3/4 as much of it as the recipe requires for galangal and increase to taste if necessary.
A decent second choice: Fingerroot
The fingerroot spice is another member of the same family that includes ginger and galangal. This rhizome consists of long, carrot-shaped fingers with a brownish orange color. The color and especially the shape give it a very different look when compared to the bent and twisted appearance of galangal. It is often confused for a variety of galangal known as lesser galangal, partly because of its flavor. Like lesser galangal, it has a pungent flavor that many people consider medicinal. In fact, it is used primarily as a medicine in most of Asia; however, it is used as a spice in Thai and Cambodian cooking. Thai cooks use in many of the same dishes that contain galangal and/or ginger. It is particularly effective in fish curries, where it can help to neutralize excessively fishy flavors.
Like ginger, the flavor of fingerroot is more intense than that of galangal. That intensity means that you will need to use less of it when using it as a substitute. Start with about 1/2 of the amount that the recipe requires for galangal and increase if necessary.
In a pinch: Mace and cinnamon
Another good option is simply to replicate the flavor notes of galangal. Neither mace nor cinnamon is related to galangal or to each other; however, their combined flavors can replicate the sweetness and complexity of galangal as well as its peppery warmth. Cinnamon provides the light peppery notes of galangal, mace adds a subtle spiciness that includes mild citrus notes.
Ginger and cinnamon can be combined to provide many of the same flavors that you can get from galangal. Both have a subtle pepperiness and together provide a complexity similar to that of galangal.
Black or white pepper can be used as a much less complex alternative to galangal. They have the benefit of being much easier to find and much less unfamiliar to western palates. They can provide the peppery component of the galangal flavor profile.