Substitute Ginger for Galangal, but Not Vice Versa
Galangal is part of the ginger family, but this ginger look-alike does not taste the same.
Galangal is part of the Zingiberaceae, or ginger, family that also includes turmeric. Indeed, galangal bears a striking resemblance to its better-known cousin, and the knobby rhizomes can be prepared (peeled and minced, grated, or sliced) and stored (peeled and stashed in the freezer) the same way. Since we recommend ginger as a substitute for galangal, we wondered if galangal could be subbed for ginger.
When we swapped galangal for ginger in frozen yogurt and in a soy-based dipping sauce, we found its sharp, astringent, and almost piney flavor to be too strong. Ginger, on the other hand, is lightly sweet and spicy. We like ginger in both sweet and savory applications, as either a starring or a supporting flavor, whereas galangal's distinctive taste is better suited to savory foods.
Because galangal is typically one in a group of aromatics, we don't mind substituting ginger for it in savory dishes. But we won't swap galangal for ginger, particularly when it's the main flavoring.