Sand ginger is one of the names for Kaempferia galanga, a rhizome used in several South East Asian dishes and that only recently has come to the attention of chefs in the West. It offers a unique flavor that may not be easy to duplicate but there are some alternatives that you can try. If you are having a hard time finding this spice, below are some of the best sand ginger substitutes.
Your best bet: Galangal (Alpinia galanga)
Galangal is a close relative of sand ginger. It is also referred to as greater galangal, while sand ginger is sometimes referred to as lesser galangal. As the names indicate, the most obvious difference between the two spices is size. Greater galangal rhizomes are typically thicker than those of lesser galangal. The flavor of greater galangal is best described as being floral with cinnamon elements. The flavor of sand ginger generally the same, though the latter is said to be more medicinal with a noticeable piney astringency. Both have the distinctive pepperiness that is commonly associated with ginger. While galangal lacks some aspects of sand ginger’s flavor, it is easily the closest option to it that you will find anywhere.
Use galangal as a 1:1 substitute for sand ginger.
A decent second choice: Ginger
Regular ginger is the easiest of the sand ginger replacements to find. It is available in most grocery stores. It is a relative of both galangal and sand ginger and you can tell that simply by looking at it—it shares the same general shape and has a similar color. The first big difference between regular ginger and sand ginger is texture since ginger is relatively soft and easy to grate whereas sand ginger is woody and coarse. Another difference is that ginger’s flavor is somewhat more concentrated and lacks the piney, astringent note. Ginger will work well in most (if not all) of the dishes that require sand ginger, but the flavor will be noticeably different; however, most westerners will be more familiar with it so this might actually be a benefit. If a recipe calls for both ginger and sand ginger, simply use twice as much ginger.
Use half as much regular ginger when replacing sand ginger in a recipe.
In a pinch: Fingerroot
Fingerroot is another medicinal rhizome, most often used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat many of the same illnesses for which sand ginger is also a remedy. While it is a common medicinal spice, it is also used in some cuisines. It is a member of the ginger family like sand ginger and galangal. The name comes from the root’s shape, which is long and cylindrical similar to a parsnip; it grows in splayed bunches in a way that is vaguely evocative of fingers on a hand. Fingerroot has a similar spicy and medicinal flavor as sand ginger. The big drawback of fingerroot is that it is difficult to find in the west, possibly more so than sand ginger.
Zedoary is a close relative of sand ginger and of regular ginger. Barely known in the west, this spice is sometimes confused with sand ginger. The flavor of zedoary is often likened to that of unripe mango with a strong ginger component.
The flavor of sand ginger can be replicated somewhat with common, non-rhizome ingredients as well. The combination of cinnamon and mace can provide a dish with some of sand ginger’s spiciness and complexity.