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A member of the ginger family, this knobby root hails from Indonesia and tastes like a cross between pepper and ginger. It's name is taken from the Arabic khalanjan, meaning "mild ginger." When the plants--which grow 3-4 foot flower stems--are several years old, they are lifted...and their roots removed and dried in the sun to a reddish-brown color. These are then cut into 3-inch by 1-inch pieces.
Arabs grind these root pieces and take them as snuff. They also use them to flavor wine and beer. Hindus use them in their perfumes and to prepare curries.
The "lesser" galangal--Alpinia officinarum is native to South China and has been mentioned in ancient manuscripts of both China and India.