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Fingerroot (Boesenbergia pandurata (Roxb.) Schltr.)


botanicalKaempferia pandurata Roxb., Boesenbergia rotunda (L.) Mansfeld
ChineseSuo Shi
凹脣薑 [lāp sèuhn gēung]
Lap seuhn geung
凹脣薑 [āo chún jiāng]
Ao chun jiang
CzechČíňan zázvor
DutchTemoe koentji
EnglishChinese ginger, Chinese key, Lesser ginger
FrenchPetits doigts
GermanChinesischer Ingwer, Fingerwurz
HungarianKínai gyömbér
IndonesianTemu kunci
Pinggeo-rutu, Pinngo-rutu
Laoຫົວກະຊາຍ, ກະຊາຍ
Hua Kasai, Kasai, Neng Kieng
LithuanianBesenbergija, Kiniškas imbieras
Thaiกระชาย, กะแอน, ว่านพระอาทิตย์
Ka chai, Krachai, Ka-aen, Wan-phra’a-thit
VietnameseBồng nga truật, Cú ngái
Bong nga truat, Cu ngai

Boesenbergia pandurata: Fresh fingerroot
Fresh fingerroot
Boesenbergia pandurata: Fingerroot rhizome
Fingerroot rhizome       © Thai Junior Encyclopedia


The identity of the spice is some­times also given as Boesen­bergia rotunda (L.) Mansf. If the two plants are distinct at all, then they can probably be used inter­change­ably.

Used plant part


Plant family

Zingiber­aceae (ginger family).

Sensory quality

Fingerroot has a strong, dominating flavour that I would, lacking a better term, classify as medical. It is an interesting fact that the fingers and the central, globular part of the rhizome have different odour, but I do not know of any recipe making use of that.

Boesenbergia pandurata: Chinese ginger flower
Fingerroot flower

Boesenbergia pandurata: Fingerroot flower
Fingerroot flower

Main constituents

Finger­root contains 1 to 3% of an essen­tial oil. Several aroma com­ponents have been identified, 1-8 cineol, camphor, d-borneol and methyl cinnamate being the most important. Trace com­ponents are d-pinene, zingiber­ene, zingiber­one, curcumin, zedoarin and others. In other con­text, the rose-flavoured mono­terpenoid al­cohols geraniol and nerol are na­med.

Among the non‑volatile  con­stituents, flavones and flavon­oids (pino­strobin, alpinetin, pino­cembrin), chalcones (card­amonin) and dihydro­chalcones (boesen­bergin A) have been identified. Cardamonin is under investigation because of its anti-tumor properties.


Southern China and Southeast Asia.


I don’t know the derivation of the genus name, Boesenbergia; probably it refers to a personal name, e. g., Boesenberg or Bösenberger, but I didn’t find any references. The genus name panduratus derives from Greek pandoura [πανδοῦρα] fiddle, which in turn was named after the god Pan [Πάν], who used to play that instrument. The comparison hints at the fiddle-shaped stamina.

The element kunci key in the Indonesian name also refers to the shape of the rhizome (cf. the English name Chinese keys, which is common in Singapore).

Selected Links

Sorting Boesenbergia names (

Boesenbergia pandurata: Chinese keys flower
Fingerroot flower

Photo: Ben-Erik van Wyk
(Food Plants of the World, Briza Publications)

Boesenbergia pandurata: Fingerroot plant
Fingerroot plant with flower       © Thai Junior Encyclopedia

Fingerroot is the best English name that can be devised for this South-East Asian spice, which has become generally known in the West only in recent years. Fingerroot is used as a medicine, not for cooking, in China, and it is a rare spice in the cuisines of Vietnam and Indonesia: I have seen it appearing in markets in, e. g., Saigon [Sài Gòn] or Bukittinggi, but corresponding cookbooks usually do not mention it.

It is only Thai cooking, however, where fingerroot plays the rôle of an important flavouring. Although it is employed in lesser extent than the related spices ginger and galanga, it often goes into curries, particularly fish curries (see coconut about Thai curry pastes) and it is a common ingredient for vegetable stews or fish soups (together with kaffir lime leaves). It can be grated or, more rarely, used in form of thin slices.

The dried rhizome has a somewhat stronger, more medical flavour and would not be used if the fresh rhizome is available (which, in Thailand, it is almost always). If you have to resort to the dried spice, you should soak it in warm water and grind it into a paste.

Fingerroot is quite often available in Thai food stores, where it is easy to identify by its peculiar shape. Nevertheless, cookbooks often prove guilty in confusing it with related rhizome spices, particularly the Indonesian spice lesser galanga, whose name kencur (often in Dutch spelling kentjoer) is often misapplied to fingerroot.

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