Lesser Ginger ("Rhizome") – Gkrachai (or Krachai)
by Kasma Loha-unchit
See also Kasma's information on Galanga (Kah).
Lesser Ginger or "Rhizome" (gkrachai): Although it has come to be called in English by a broad name, gkrachai (also krachai or kachai) is not just any rhizome, but a very specific kind with its own distinctive piquant flavor and tangy fragrance that cannot be mistaken with other members of the ginger family to which it belongs. Known also as "lesser ginger", "lesser galanga" and "Chinese key," this root is comprised of a cluster of long, slender, orangish brown fingers joined to an insignificant, knobby ginger-like rhizome. Because its exuberant, aromatic quality freshens the taste of seafood, it is used primarily in seafood dishes. The fingers are cut into fine slivers and tossed along with other fragrant herbs into hot-and-spicy seafood stir-fries, curries and incendiary soups.
Rhizome is rarely available fresh in the United States, but is imported from Thailand in frozen pouches found in Southeast Asian markets. When you buy the root in frozen packages imported from Thailand, the rhizome will usually be reddish brown. It also comes pickled or packed in brine in glass jars – rinse and soak a few minutes to wash away the brine before using; or dried slivers in plastic bags – soak in water to reconstitute. (I recently saw jars of this long, skinny rhizome labeled simply as "galanga" or "galingale;" so take care not to get it confused with the totally different "greater galanga". The frozen roots yield far better results that come closest to fresh and should be used whenever possible. I prefer to do without rather than use the dried or powdered forms, but if you want to substitute with dried pieces, use only half the amount called for. Soak in warm water to reconstitute; they won't quite soften enough to chew on, but will flavor stir-fries and can be chopped up to pound into curry paste. Lesser ginger is usually labeled simply as "rhizome" and sometimes as kachai.
In folk medicine, this rhizome is used to treat urinary problems, dysentery, dizziness and inflammations around the mouth. It also makes a tonic for improving bodily strength.
Our Ingredients Index contains links to many more Thai ingredients.