Sand Ginger: Galangal’s Medicinal Cousin

Sand ginger is a variety of galangal sometimes called lesser galangal. This rhizome’s Latin name is Kaempferia galanga and it is a member of the ginger family just like other galangal varieties. It is named for Engelbert Kaempfer, the German botanist. Sand ginger is an ancient spice with the records of it being used as both a medicine and culinary ingredient going back thousands of years. It is native to Southeast Asia and is thought to have originated in Burma.

Like many spices that have a long history, sand ginger has many names. Sanskrit names include sugandhavacha and in China, it is sold as sha jiang. There are historical records of it being used in 17th century Kerala as a medicine. Kerala is one of the places where it is cultivated in India, along with Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Today, sand ginger does not play a major role in Indian cooking; however, it is widely used among Indonesians and was most likely brought to Malaysia and Indonesia by Indian traders. The spice is relatively unknown in the west and has only recently begun to get attention. The best way to source it in the west is to seek out stores selling Indonesian groceries.

Sand ginger is believed to be extinct in the wild and is presently subject to conservation efforts. It is conserved via cultivation.

Sand ginger flavor profile

Sand ginger’s flavor profile is peppery with notes of pine and camphor. It is only mildly similar to ginger and is the more astringent-tasting of the two rhizomes. Its flavor is often described as being somewhat medicinal.

Health benefits of sand ginger

Like galangal and its other rhizome relatives, sand ginger contains an extensive array of valuable nutrients.

  • Eucalyptol: Eucalyptol is the aromatic phytochemical for which Australian eucalyptus trees are famous. Various plants that contain it have been used medicinally for centuries.
  • Borneol: Borneol is an anti-inflammatory and antibacterial terpene found in sand ginger.

Sand ginger’s chemical constituents make it a worthwhile treatment for such health problems as:

  • Cancer: Sand ginger contains a lot of antioxidants, which makes it useful for treating several serious health issues, including cancer.
  • Staph infections: Studies have shown sand ginger to be effective against Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.
  • Inflammation: Practitioners of traditional medicine use sand ginger to treat inflammatory conditions like sore throats and oral ulcers. Extracts from sand ginger are described as being more effective than aspirin in some studies.
  • Gastrointestinal ailments: Sand ginger is used as a carminative and as a treatment for diarrhea. Researchers have also found that it stimulated the production of intestinal mucus, which helps to protect the lining of the intestines thus preventing ulcers.

Common uses

While the sand ginger’s rhizome is the spice component of the plant, the leaves are consumed as well; they are eaten raw or cooked as vegetables. In Thailand, the rhizome is an ingredient in curries. It is typically grated or crushed like ginger. It is used in Malaysian nasi kerabu, which a dish featuring blue rice. Szechuan cuisine uses the dried form of the spice. In Indonesia, sand ginger is used to make a beverage called beras kencur. This drink is a staple of the traditional Indonesian medicine called jamu. Beras kencur is similar to Mexican horchata and consists of cinnamon, rice, and sand ginger.