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Lesser Galangal

Lesser Galangal

(Alpinia officinarum) There are numerous plants belonging to the same botanical family that have been called lesser galangal. It is easy to be misled because common names are practically interchangeable. No great harm will be done by using one rhizome instead of the other since none of them are noxious. However, the flavor will be different. Among the plants that are sometimes mistaken for lesser galangal are Kaempferia galanga and Boesenbergia pandurata.

Lesser galangal was used in Europe in mediaeval times, and mentioned in the writings of Arabic physicians Rhazes and Avicenna.l It was first recorded by Ibn Khurdadbah in 869, who listed it as an article of trade from the Far East. It was commonly used as a culinary spice together with cloves, nutmeg and ginger, but the plant itself was not described until 1870, when it was named for Prosper Alpinus.

True lesser galangal is native to the island of Hainan, and the south-eastern coast of China. It is not a culinary spice, but used in Chinese medicine.

Purchasing and storing : The Chinese name for lesser galangal is san bai. It is sold at Chinese herbal shops, mainly in the form of small round slices of the dried rhizome. It will last almost indefinitely if kept airtight.

Preparation : Simmered in the cleansing, toning and healing soups which are part of the traditional Chinese kitchen, a soup to serve 4-6 people could include 1 tablespoon of dried lesser galangal slices..

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