Ginger or luya is one of those ingredients that are common in our local cuisine. It’s the second most important ingredient in chicken tinola apart from the chicken and it’s used to remove the off fishy taste of tahong and other shellfish.
There are two other roots that look like ginger in the supermarket but aren’t quite ginger. One is a bright orange color that are small and ringed while the other is hard, like wood but is paler.
You’re probably looking at either galangal or turmeric, not ginger! All three are part of the rhizome family, which are creeping rootstalk that grow horizontally instead of vertically. This means that these can produce a new plant and root system if left to grow. That’s one of the reasons why it’s easy to grow but hard to harvest since it’s underground.
All three can be prepared in similar ways by peeling off the skin and either slicing, pounding, or finely chopping before adding to dishes.
Are you familiar with these three ingredients? If not, you’re not alone. Here are the differences:
1 Ginger has soft tan skin. Turmeric has ringed, orange skin. Galangal has pale, smooth yellow skin.
A quick look of the exterior of the three rhizomes reveals that turmeric is the most different of the three. It’s got bright orange skin, is smaller in size, and has numerous and obvious rings running along the length of its skin.
The rings are not quite as prominent in the ginger or the galangal. Ginger has a thin and light tan skin that hides the fleshy woody but moist root underneath. The galangal meanwhile also sports a skin that is similar to ginger but is much paler in color. Its hue leans more towards the lighter white than the brighter yellow. If you can still not decide if it’s ginger or galangal, give the skin a caress. The skin of the galangal is smoother than ginger.
2 Ginger is yellow. Turmeric is orange. Galangal is pale yellow.
The most telling difference between turmeric and the other two is color. Even without cutting up the turmeric, you know it’s turmeric because it is highly pigmented. In fact, it’s the only one of the three that is bright orange. Ginger when sliced open is a yellow hue while galangal is a much paler yellow color compared to the yellow color of the ginger.
3 Turmeric stains. Ginger is juicy. Galangal is hard like wood.
The pigment of turmeric doesn’t keep to itself. It will stain your fingers, chopping board, and even your kitchen towels if you’re not careful. That’s why turmeric is a common ingredient in natural yellow dyes and is even used as a color substitute for saffron in paella.
Ginger, meanwhile, is a juicy ingredient. While it looks hard, it contains enough water to be squeezed and create juice if needed. Galangal, however, is not that soft. In fact, while ginger can be grated fairly easily, galangal is so hard that it’s best to either slice it or pound into a paste when using it.
4 Turmeric is earthy. Ginger is spicy. Galangal is citrusy.
Finally, if you’re still unsure what you have in your possession, a taste will make it all clear. Turmeric is earthy in taste. It’s quite mild but does hide a bitter taste. When dried and turned into a powder, these flavors are less obvious.
Ginger is naturally peppery and spicy. The sharpness is not too strong, especially when added to a delicious soup. Galangal on the other hand tastes like ginger but stronger with a citrusy taste.