ginger is called Krachai Kao and can be seen in markets with its distinctive
long finger like roots, it is often used in fish dishes and while it also
known as lesser galangal it should not be confused with the galangal that is
used in green curry paste.
The rainy season is the flowering season for gingers of all sorts. There are
more than 1200 different ginger species (Zingiberaceae) in the world, most
are considered edible. In Thailand there are at least 276 species in this
family. One which blooms right now at Dokmai Garden is the finger ginger
(Boesenbergia rotunda syn. B. pandurata, Zingiberaceae).
You see the rhizome (a horizontal underground stem) and its fingerlike roots
for sale at all northern Thai markets where it is often called ‘krachai’ or
‘krachai kao’ to emphasize its difference from ‘krachai dam’ or Kaempferia
parviflora. Unfortunately some people in Thailand call the finger ginger
Wikipedia and Mabberley’s plant-book claim that finger ginger is an
important ingredient in making Thai green curry paste. According to Ketsanee
and my own limited observations finger ginger is mainly used in making fish
dishes, not for making green curry. The reason for this reputation may be
that, confusingly, it may be called ‘galangal’ or ‘galanga’ in English,
while the real ‘galangal’ (Alpinia galanga, Zingiberaceae) is an ingredient
in Thai green curry. This species might be confused with ‘lesser galanga’
(Alpinia officinarum), which in turn can be confused with Kaempferia
galanga, another plant we grow at Dokmai Garden. If any of our readers have
seen finger ginger being used in making Thai green curry paste please let me
know (and taste).
These examples show the confusion caused by English and Thai vernacular
names, and how a dictionary may screw up your cooking. To be absolutely sure
how to repeat the making of your favourite Thai dish, then watch the Thai
cook make it and taste the raw ingredients. Ask the cook to plant the
ingredients in your garden, because if you go to the market to buy them
yourself, using the cook’s names, the vendors may use your cook’s local
names for other plants/ingredients, and the dish will taste differently.
Wait until you see the flowers and then use botanical literature for their
proper identification. Once you have its international standardized name
(the scientific Latin name) you can pick any vernacular name you want, but
now you will know the ingredient by looks and name.
The genus Boesenbergia, coined by the German botanist Otto Carl Ernst Kuntze
(1843-1907) after his sister Clara and her husband Walter Boesenberg,
encompass about 80 species, of which at least 20 are found in Thailand.
According to ginger expert Kai Larsen finger ginger may be native to
northern Thailand, but since it escapes from cultivation it can be hard to
According to my wife, you should harvest the underground rhizome and its
roots when the green leaves are gone. That happens during the dry season
when the plant is dormant and all nutrients for next rainy season’s growth
are packed in rhizome and roots. We grow finger ginger within a few
footsteps from the kitchen, it being a frequently used cooking ingredient.
In our vegetable section we keep many more specimens.