Ginger is a popular spice used in many cuisines around the world. It has a distinct flavor and aroma that adds a punch to both sweet and savory dishes. If you enjoy cooking with ginger, you may be interested in experimenting with other herbs and spices that can provide a similar flavor profile. Several herbs share common characteristics with ginger and can make suitable substitutes in recipes calling for ginger depending on availability and personal preference.
Galangal is likely the closest substitute for ginger. Sometimes referred to as Thai ginger, this root is a very close relative to ginger in the Zingiberaceae (ginger) family. In fact, galangal looks nearly identical to ginger, with a knobby, tan-colored rhizome covered in a thin, brownish skin. However, galangal has a distinct reddish hue on the inside.
Like ginger, galangal has a sharp, citrusy and pine-like flavor. It provides a complex aroma with hints of pepper and smoke. It is commonly used in Thai and Indonesian cooking and adds a similar fire and zest to dishes as ginger. Substitute galangal 1:1 for ginger in recipes.
Turmeric is another ginger relative that can be used similarly in cooking. Native to Southeast Asia, this bright yellow-orange spice is made from the underground stems of the turmeric plant. It has an unmistakable bold, peppery and slightly bitter taste.
Turmeric shares some of the woody, almost floral undertones of ginger and can replicate some of its warming properties in cuisine. However, turmeric is more bitter, while ginger is more citrusy and sharp. Replace ginger with turmeric in a 1:1 ratio, keeping in mind turmeric may impart more mellow, earthy notes.
Cardamom is an intensely aromatic spice often used in Indian cooking and baking. The seeds come from cardamom pods grown in tropical areas of Asia. They have a complex flavor profile, with notes of lemon, mint and eucalyptus. There are two main types of cardamom – green and black.
Like ginger, cardamom provides a sweet yet spicy kick and works well in both savory dishes and baked goods. Use the same amount of cardamom seeds or ground cardamom as you would grated ginger. However, cardamom has more pronounced floral, fruity tones compared to the lemony notes of ginger.
Allspice is named for its flavor echoes of other spices, like cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and black pepper. The dried berries used as allspice come from an evergreen tree native to Central America and the Caribbean. The flavor is mildly sweet and aromatic, with warm hints of vanilla, pine and pepper.
In savory cooking, allspice can provide a similar background heat to ginger, though it is more sweetly pungent. Use a 1:1 substitution ratio, keeping in mind allspice may lend more subtle spice effects compared to the brighter punch of ginger.
Long pepper is a hotter, more intense cousin of regular black peppercorns. The elongated, reddish brown berries are dried and ground to make the spice. With origins in India and Indonesia, long pepper has a sharp, piney and hot taste that can mimic the heat of ginger.
Try using a 1:1 long pepper to ginger ratio in recipes calling for spicy ginger flavor. Because it’s extra fiery, start with about half the amount of long pepper and adjust to taste. It works especially well in curries, stir fries and other Asian dishes.
Grains of Paradise
Grains of paradise are small, reddish-brown seeds in the ginger family grown in West Africa. They have robust flavor with hints of cardamom, citrus and pepper. Grains of paradise provide a warm, tingling sensation on the tongue like ginger.
Use a 1:1 replacement ratio, knowing grains of paradise are slightly less pungent than ginger. This punchy substitute adds unique flavor to spice blends and pairs well with chicken, seafood, lamb and vegetables.
Sichuan peppercorns come from the prickly ash shrub native to China. Despite the name, they are not botanically related to regular peppercorns. The reddish-brown husks around the seeds impart an intensely aromatic, woody and citrusy flavor. They also create a tingling, mouth-numbing sensation.
Try Sichuan peppercorns as a ginger substitute when you want an extra-pronounced numbing effect. Use a bit less, about 3/4 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns for every 1 teaspoon ginger. They are popular in Sichuan cuisine and work well in various Asian recipes and marinades.
Closely related to both regular galangal and ginger is lesser galangal. Native to Indonesia, this knobby root also belongs to the Zingiberaceae family. It has a tough, light brown skin with reddish-orange flesh that is sliced, dried and powdered.
Lesser galangal is the mildest member of the galangal family, with subtle pine and citrus notes. It can replace ginger well when you want a more delicate flavor. Use a 1:1 ratio, adding more if you want more pronounced galangal tones.
Pink peppercorns are dried, reddish-pink berries from the Baies rose plant. They are native to Peru and Brazil. Don’t let the name confuse you – pink peppercorns are unrelated to black or white peppercorns. They have a sweet, mildly spicy flavor evocative of black pepper, cinnamon and citrus.
For a less intense heat than ginger, use an equal amount of pink peppercorns. Their sweetly floral notes can complement ginger well in recipes for meats, seafood, rice dishes and marinades. However, avoid pink peppercorns if you have cashew or mango allergies.
Cubeb pepper is another relative of black pepper, made from the dried berries of a vine originating from Indonesia. Cubebs have a bitter, pungent taste similar to allspice, cloves and black pepper. They provide a gentle warming sensation like ginger.
Replace ginger with cubeb pepper in a 1:2 ratio, since cubeb peppers are less spicy. They work well in pickling spice blends and complements vegetables like carrots, onions and cabbage.
Myrtle is an aromatic evergreen shrub that grows wild in Africa, Europe and the Middle East. The leaves and berries have an intense, resinous fragrance. Dried myrtle has a bittersweet, astringent taste like bay leaves. The flavor offers herbal notes comparable to ginger.
Use about half the amount of myrtle leaves or ground berries as ginger in recipes. Myrtle complements rice, seafood, poultry and vegetables. It makes an interesting substitute when you want more woodsy, herbal notes.
Similarities to Ginger
When selecting an herb or spice to replace ginger, the most important qualities to look for are:
- Warmth – Ginger adds heating flavor and “spice” to dishes.
- Zing – Ginger has a sharp, citrusy, peppery quality that livens up recipes.
- Woodsy aroma – The fragrance of fresh ginger root is earthy with hints of pine and lemon.
- Sweetness – Ginger has a mild sweetness that complements its heat.
The substitutes that mimic these elements of ginger best include galangal, turmeric, grains of paradise, Sichuan peppercorns and long pepper. Even when swapping equal amounts, expect these flavors to be a bit different from ginger.
Key Differences from Ginger
While the previously mentioned herbs and spices can substitute for ginger, each has unique properties to be aware of:
|Herb/Spice||Key Differences from Ginger|
|Galangal||Slightly more citrusy; firmer texture|
|Turmeric||More bitter, earthy flavor|
|Cardamom||Sweeter, more floral aroma|
|Allspice||More subtle, cinnamon-like flavor|
|Long pepper||Hotter, more intense spiciness|
|Grains of paradise||Less pungent, milder heat|
|Sichuan peppercorns||Numbing effect on mouth|
|Lesser galangal||More delicate citrus flavor|
|Pink peppercorns||Fruity, floral notes|
|Cubeb pepper||Allspice-like bittersweetness|
|Myrtle||Resinous, tannic taste|
Using Ginger Substitutes
Here are some tips for successfully using ginger alternatives in your cooking:
- Try a test tablespoon of the substitute first. Adjust ratios as needed if the flavor seems too strong or weak.
- Complement warm spices like turmeric, Sichuan pepper and galangal with other seasonings like garlic, chili and lemon.
- Balance sweeter spices like cardamom, allspice or pink pepper with savory ingredients.
- Reduce total amounts when using very spicy subbing options like long pepper or grains of paradise.
- For lesser galangal and myrtle, use them more generously since they are milder.
- Consider overall dish flavors and cuisines. For example, turmeric is ideal for Indian curries, while lemongrass suits Thai foods better.
Ginger has incredibly versatile uses from sweet to savory cooking. While no substitute can exactly replicate its unique flavor, experimenting with ginger-like spices and herbs can lead to tasty new discoveries and spice blends. Next time fresh ginger is unavailable, try cardamom in cookies, galangal in stir fries, or pink peppercorns in a marinade for a delicious twist.
Ginger has an irreplaceable, vibrant taste that works well in sweet and savory recipes across many cultures. However, in a pinch, spices like galangal, turmeric, cardamom, allspice, Sichuan pepper and long pepper can mimic some of ginger’s most salient qualities of heat, zing and aroma. Lesser galangal, pink peppercorns, cubeb pepper and myrtle also make intriguing milder substitutes. Each alternative spice has unique properties to consider, but with the right balance of flavors you can achieve tasty results using ginger substitutes when fresh ginger is unavailable.