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Lesser Galangale (Kaempferia galanga L.)


山奈 [sāan nòih], 沙薑 [sā gēung]
Saan noih, Sa geung
山奈 [shān nài], 沙姜 [shā jiāng], 三奈 [sān nài], 沙薑 [shā jiāng], 山柰 [shān nài]
Shan nai, San nai, Sha jiang
DanishLille Galanga
EnglishResurrection lily, Sand ginger
FrenchGalanga camphré, Faux galanga
GermanKleiner Galgant, Gewürzlilie, Sandingwer
GreekΚινέσζικη πιπερόριζα
Kineszike piperoriza
IndonesianKencur; Kunci pepet*, Kunir putih*, Temu rapet*
Japanese バンウコン, ケンチョル
Ban-ukon, Kenchoru
LaoVan hom
LithuanianKvapusis imbierutis
MalayKunchor, Cekur, Cekur Jawa, Cengkur; Kunyit putih*, Temu putih*
Kaccholam, Chengazhinirkizhangu
Sinhalaඉඞුරුපියලි, ඉංරුපියලි
Ingurupiyali, Ingrupiyali (?)
TagalogDusol; Gisol na bilog*
Thaiเปราะหอม, หอมเปราะ, ว่านหอม, ว่านตีนดิน, ว่านแผ่นดินเย็น, ว่านหาวนอน
Pro hom, Hom pro, Waan hom, Waan teen din; Wan phaen din yen, Waan nonlap*, Waan haao non*, Ueang din*
VietnameseCẩm dia la*, Địa liền, Sa khương, Ngải máu*, Sơn nại, Tam nại
Cam dia la*, Dia lien, Sa khuong, Ngai mau*, Son nai, Tam nai
Kaempferia rotunda: Lesser Galanga
Kaempferia rotunda
Kaempferia galanga: Sterile kencur plant
Sterile lesser galanga

There are two related species that are some­times con­fused: Kaempferia rotunda Jacq. and K. galanga L. In the above list, names that are (probably) referring to K. rotunda are marked with an asterisk in the list above. Note, however, that some of these very much look like names for zedoary; there might be a mistake in my sources.

K. galanga, which is grown for medicine and as a spice, is an almost stemless plant that develops its few short-lived leaves and the flower at ground level. K. rotunda, on the other hand, is valued as a medicinal plants and also as an ornamental; it has stems and long-lived, large leaves, and basically looks much similar to other members of the family.

Another note

The name Lesser galangale is often applied to Alpinia officinarum Hance (syn. Languas officinarum), in fact even more often than to Kaempferia galanga. The terminology chosen for this page is, therefore, somewhat unfortunate, and I am considering to change it in next time.

Alpinia officinarum is closely related to A. galanga (galangale) for which it is usually considered a legitimate substitute.

Kaempferia galanga: Lesser galanga (fresh rhizome)
Fresh rhizome of lesser galanga
Kaempferia galanga: Lesser galanga (dried rhizome)
Dried rhizome of lesser galanga
Used plant part


It resem­bles ginger in shape in that the subunits are flat (elliptical cross-section), but it is much smaller (5 cm). It has a dark reddish–brown skin, and the soft interior is nearly white.

Plant family

Zingiberaceae (ginger family).

Kaempferia galanga: Kencur flower
Lesser galanga flower
Kaempferia galanga: Flower of Lesser Galangale
Flower of lesser galanga
Sensory qual­ity

Strongly aromatic, spice-like, almost medical.

Main constitu­ents

Lesser galanga rhizome contains about 2.5 to 4% essential oil, whose main com­ponents are ethyl cin­namate (25%), ethyl-p‑methoxy cin­namate (30%) and p‑methoxy cinnamic acid; further­more, 3‑carene-5‑one was found (Phytochemistry, 26, 3350, 1987).

Other literature re­ports 4‑butyl­menthol, β‑phellandrene, α‑terpineol, dihydro-β‑sesqui­phellandrene, penta­decane and 1,8‑cineol.

The rhizome is al­so re­ported to dis­play cyto­toxic proper­ties. (Chem. Pharm. Bull., 33, 3565, 1985).

In the rhizomes of a related species, K. rotunda, a number of cyclo­hexane di­epoxides (di­epoxides of cyclo­hexa-1,3‑diene) were found (Phytochemistry, 43, 305, 1996).


The plant is native to South India, but today mainly cultivated in South East Asia and China. It’s of no importance in today’s Indian cooking.

Kaempferia galanga: Young kencur plant
Young plants of lesser galangale

Kaempferia galanga: Lesser galanga sterile
Lesser galanga, sterile plants     © Indu Bala Jaganath

In contrast, the closely related species K. rotunda stems from South East Asia; it is widely culti­vated all over tropical Asia (South East Asia, China), mainly for use as an orna­mental or medical plant.

As a spice, lesser galanga is nearly unknown outside the Malesian region (Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia); in Europe, it is available only in the Netherlands, where a large Indonesian community is living.


See greater galanga. The Indonesian name kencur derives from Sanskrit kachora [कचोर], which, however, probably means another plant (Curcuma zerumbet, a close relative of zedoary).

The genus name Kaempferia honours the German botanist Engelbert Kaempfer (1651–1716). Kaempfer’s most important achievement was the first thorough description of Japanese flora by a European scientist; for example, he first named and described the maidenhair tree. Kaempfer’s name for the tree, Ginkgo biloba, was based on the Chinese yin xing [銀杏] silver apricot, silver almond, which in century Japan was pronounced ginkyo.

Kaempferia galanga: Young plants of lesser galangale (kenchur)
Young plants of lesser galanga

Modern Japanese has two different names for ginkgo: Ginnan [ぎんなん] denotes the ginkgo seeds (ginkgo nuts) and is the modern variant of Kaempfer’s original form ginkyo derived from Chinese yin xing [銀杏]. The ginkgo tree, however, is named ichō [いちょう] in Japanese, which goes back to another ancient Chinese name of ginkgo, ya jiao [鸭脚] duck-foot (given because of the shape of the leaves). Rather confusingly, both Japanese names are written with the same Kanji, 銀杏. In Korean, ginkgo is known as unhaeng [은행], which is a loan from Chinese yin xing and thus cognate to Japanese ginnan. Quite interestingly, modern Chinese uses an unrelated name for ginkgo, bai guo [白果] white fruit, which is also the source of Vietnamese bach qua [bạch quả].

Selected Links

Sorting Kaempferia names ( Rezept: Bebek betulu ( Recipe: Bebek betulu ( Recipe: Sambal kacang (

Kaempferia galanga: Lesser galanga, plant and flower
Lesser galanga, plant and flower     © Alan Galloway

Lesser ga­langa is, in contrast to the popular greater galangale, hardly known in the West being closely tied to only a few indi­genous cuisines. Actually, it seems to be used mainly by Malayic peoples in Malaysia and Indonesia (especially, in Jawa and Bali). Its strong aroma is less pleasant than that of greater galanga, at least in high concen­tration or on first contact.

Slices of the dried rhizome may be cooked with vegetable or meat dishes, but mostly the spice is used fresh and grated or crushed. It is essential for Jawanese cooking (Rijstafel) and often appears in the character­istically spicy–sweet foods of that island. For example, lesser galangale often flavours the peanut sauce (sambal kacang) made from ground peanuts, sweet soy sauce (kecap manis), raw spices (chiles, garlic and lesser galangale) and tamarind water or lime juice. Sambal kacang is typically served to sate, grilled meat on tiny skewers, but also goes well with boiled or steamed vegetables.

Kaempferia galanga: Lesser galanga, flowering plant
Group of flowering lesser galangale plants

Even more than in Jawa, lesser galangale is much loved in the neigh­bouring island Bali (see Indo­nesian bay-leaf). The most famous dish owing its character in part to lesser galangale is Balinese roast duck bebek betulu, a favourite with tourists in Bali. A whole duck is rub inside and outside with a paste (Balinese jangkap, in Indonesian called bumbu, see lemon grass) made from onions, ginger, lemon grass, garlic, kemiri nuts, chiles, other spices and lesser galangale; after wrapping in banana leaves, the duck is first steamed and then roasted in an oven which makes the meat extraordinarily tender. The result certainly justifies the effort.

Kaempferia galanga: Lesser galangale sproutig from rhizome
Lesser galanga sproutig from rhizome

In other parts of South East and South Asia, lesser galangale is not much known as a spice, though it is widely cultivated as a medicinal herb. In dried form, it is a minor spice in Sri Lanka and sometimes appears in aromatic spice blends together with cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, mace and black pepper (Sri Lankan cookboks in English usually refer to this ingredient as aromatic ginger). Its dominant use, however, is for dahat sarakku [දැහැත් සරක්කු], a spice mix used for flavouring betel bits.

Dried lesser galanga has some culinary usage in China, being an optional ingredient to the five spice powder (see star anise) and enjoying some popularity for flavouring broths. It is particularly common in the cooking of the Sichuan province. Contrasting the usage in tropical South East Asia, lesser galangale is always used dried in Chinese cooking. Chinese cookbooks often refer to it as sand ginger, translated from Chinese sha jiang [沙姜]. See black cardamom for other dried spices used in Sichuan stews, and see cassia on Chinese master sauce.

The fingerroot, another spice from the ginger family, is very frequently confused with lesser galangale. This spice consists of finger-like tubers sprouting from a lumpy central part and is therefore easily recognizable; its taste, however, resembles lesser galanga. Its main use is for fish curries (see coconut) in Thailand. Nice pictures of both rhizomes are shown by Norman.

Another plant from the ginger family is zedoary, also called white turmeric. Although aromatic, it is, however, less important as a spice because of its rather strongly bitter taste.

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