If you’ve ever wondered, “what is pandan,” you’re far from alone.
Even experienced home cooks can be intimidated by pandan, a Southeast Asian plant used as food for its vibrant green color, bright flavor, and verdant scent.
If you’ve never tried cooking with pandan, it’s time to add it to your kitchen repertoire and explore some genuinely new and exciting flavor combinations.
Pandan, or screwpine, comes from the tropical regions of Southeast Asia and is considered a herbaceous, fragrant plant.
It resembles a small palm tree with emerald-colored leaves in the wild.
The leaves are where all of its sweet flavor is, and you can find them all over dishes from Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia.
In addition to fresh leaves, Southeast Asia cooks use powdered pandan, pandan concentrates, and pandan pastes to add color and taste to their dishes.
Intrepid and adventurous home cooks can get pandan at large supermarkets and specialty stores in all of these variations.
Although you’re unlikely to find fresh pandan leaves in the western part of the world, you may come across frozen leaves that you can use just as effectively in your cooking.
Pandan is a very prolific plant, and there are hundreds of varieties of it.
In parts of Southeast Asia, people use pandan in place of vanilla, which tends to be much more expensive in that part of the world.
What does pandan taste like?
Pandan is sweet, with a taste that’s relatively close to vanilla.
This special quality is why plenty of chefs in Southeast Asia use it to flavor desserts.
However, unlike vanilla, you can pick up other notes in pandan, like an earthy, grassy flavor or even a bit of almond.
Depending on the variety, you might even have pandan that tastes a bit like coconut.
Pandan has a very mild smell.
Although all varieties differ, most of the more commercial takes on pandan smell a bit like plain rice.
Ways to use pandan
There are countless ways to use pandan, and since it’s such a mild herbaceous additive, you really can’t go wrong with it.
In fact, one of the most beautiful things about pandan is the fact that it will never overwhelm a dish.
Instead, it will give your dishes a lovely, earthy, sweet flavor that kicks up the contract between other flavors.
You can use pandan extract in place of vanilla for a more subtle endnote to your desserts.
You can also boil or juice the leaves for smoothies or milkshakes.
Some people like to get sizeable fresh pandan leaves for wrapping fish or meat.
The leaves will impart an earthy sweetness to the protein that can almost taste like coconut in some instances.
Pandan also appears to be highly nutritious and is an excellent source of vitamin A, iron, beta carotene, and fiber.
Although some people might find it to be a bit of an acquired taste at first, it’s worth getting used to swapping out sugary additives for pandan.
Eventually, most people come to love it, and you’ll be getting tons of nutritional benefits from every pandan dish that you serve.
How to cook with pandan
In order to effectively cook with pandan, you need to understand how the different preparations of it work.
If you’re using fresh pandan, expect to get a super-strong, intense, and coconutty flavor.
Fresh pandan leaves are best for wrapping meats, veggies, or rice.
Although you can eat fresh pandan leaves, the taste might be overpowering for most palates.
On the other hand, dried and frozen pandan leaves have much less flavor.
We often think about dried herbs as being more pungent than fresh ones, which is usually the case.
With pandan, it’s the opposite.
Drying or freezing actually makes them less potent, so you will need to use more.
Before using them, you will also need to rehydrate or thaw out your pandan leaves.
So while buying dried or frozen pandan saves time and effort at the supermarket, you will need to take a few extra steps before delving into your recipe.
Once you have your rehydrated, thawed out, or fresh leaves, it’s time to get to work.
One of the most effective ways to use pandan, aside from wrapping meat or fish in the leaves, is by making a paste.
Pandan tends to have a lot of internal fibers, so make sure that you strip all stems and fibrous bits out of your pandan before pulverizing it.
The remaining paste is excellent for adding to baked goods or other recipes. You can also make pandan extract by mixing leaves with water and straining them.
These simple pandan recipes will get you started on using this versatile Southeast Asian vegetable in your own kitchen.
Once you begin using pandan, you’ll definitely want to incorporate it into more and more unique creations.
These recipes are just the beginning of a great food adventure.
1. Pandan Drink
This tasty Thai recipe simply could not be more straightforward.
All you need to get started is some boiled water, pandan leaves, and sugar.
After just a few minutes, you’ll have a refreshing beverage that will cool you off on even the hottest summer days.
If you’re new to the beautiful world of pandan, this one is an excellent jumping-off point.
Serve your tasty Pandan Drink in a tall glass with plenty of ice cubes.
You can even garnish it with some berries or other fruit if you’d like.
If you have leftover pandan that will go bad, Pandan Drink is an excellent way to make the most of it and enjoy a delicious drink.
Pandan and rice were simply made for each other, as this simple recipe proves.
The pandan gives the rice a tropical coconut kick and is the perfect backdrop for any Southeast Asian curry or soup.
Additionally, literally, all that you need to make it is some fragrant rice and a few pandan leaves.
Plus, you can grab a few additional pandan leaves for a stunning presentation that will leave your dinner guests wondering where you learned your outstanding culinary skills.
Once you’ve made Pandan Steamed Rice, you’ll never want to go back to making traditional rice again.
The nuttiness of the pandan truly takes this dish straight to the next level.
This recipe is slightly more complicated than the previous two, but it’s totally worth it in the end.
We’re confident that Buko Pandan Salad will become a fast favorite in your kitchen.
It’s a delicious Filipino dessert that relies on traditional flavors from the region, like agar agar, to create a lovely tropical base for the coconut milk and the pandan extract.
Buko Pandan Salad truly does showcase the best that pandan has to offer and highlights this delicate and tasty flavor.
You can also add more or less pandan extract to taste.
Buko Pandan Salad is a great, unexpected dish to bring to your next barbecue.
How to store pandan
You need to store your pandan correctly to keep it from going bad on you.
After buying your pandan leaves, wrap them in a paper towel and put them in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator.
No matter how well you store them, pandan leaves can go bad quickly, so make sure you use your pandan within about four days.
If you’re not going to use your pandan leaves right away, you can freeze them.
First, lay out your pandan on a large dish with enough room between each so that they’re not touching each other.
Next, put the dish in the freezer and let your pandan freeze through.
Once they’re frozen, gently place them in an air-tight freezer bag with a good seal.
Pandan leaves will keep this way for about half a year.
Tips on buying pandan
You can find and purchase pandan at any number of specialty, Southeast Asian, or gourmet food stores across the country.
Although it may be challenging to find fresh pandan, you can usually locate frozen or dried pandan leaves.
You might also be able to find pandan online and have it shipped right to you.
When buying fresh pandan, look for a bright, emerald green color.
If your fresh pandan has brown or dried-out leaves, your pandan might be past its prime.
In the case of frozen pandan, look for a bright green product free of noticeable freezer burn or ice crystals.
If you’re buying extract or pandan paste, make sure that there are no additional ingredients in the mix.
The best pandan pastes and extracts are only leaves and water.
If you buy a product with additional additives, the flavor might be muddied or “off.”
The bottom line
Many home cooks wonder, “what is pandan“?
The answer is that pandan is a wonderfully versatile Southeast Asian ingredient that will make your desserts and savory dishes sing.
Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to find pandan these days, and you will not regret adding it to your regular kitchen ingredients.
What Is Pandan? Try This Tea!
Pandan is a sweet, fragrant plant popular in Asian cooking, used in both savory and sweet foods, in extracts similar to vanilla, tea, and more.
- 1 t Jasmine tea
- 2 t pandan powder
- 2 c boiling water
- Put Jasmine tea and pandan powder in a teapot.
- Pour boiling water and let it steep for a couple of minutes.
- Serve immediately.