All about pandan

Understanding Spices

What is pandan?

Pandan is a tropical plant in the Pandanus (screwpine) genus, which is found extensively in Southeast Asia. Similar to the palm, the plant has spiky, bright green leaves which are long and slender. The leaves are used for their colour and flavour in many Southeast Asian dishes. You can find pandan leaves fresh, frozen or dried in Asian supermarkets, as well as online. Pandan can also be found as a paste, extract and powder.

Uses of pandan

Pandan has a unique scent and taste, making it a popular ingredient for both savoury and sweet dishes – even though the leaves themselves aren’t edible. The leaves have a naturally sweet flavour which can be described as grassy with a hint of rose, almond, vanilla and coconut.

For drinks and desserts, pandan juice is extracted from the leaves by placing them in a food processor and steeping in hot water. The liquid is strained and the extract is added to cakes, puddings and drinks such as buko pandan, a Filipino dessert drink. Pandan works wonders when paired with dairy or coconut milk. Bring to a simmer, steep some pandan leaves in the mixture and use it as a base for puddings, pastry creams or custard.

In Indonesian and Malaysian cuisine, the green juice is used as a food colouring which is commonly used in traditional cakes such as klepon, kue putu, dadar gulung and lapis legit. To read more about Indonesian desserts, take a look at our post on top 10 Indonesian desserts.

As the leaves are long and sturdy, this makes them the perfect thing to wrap and flavour meats, such as Thai chicken which is marinated and wrapped in pandan leaves before frying or grilling.

In South Asian countries such as Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh, pandan leaves are used in curries, biryani, dal and desserts. You can steep the leaves in coconut milk which is then added to a dish, or add them directly into the curry for a nutty fragrance.

If you want to add flavour and aroma to rice, simply take a leaf or two, tie them in a knot and place in a pot of rice while it cooks. For even more flavourful rice, pandan pairs really well with other Southeast Asian spices and ingredients such as lemongrass and turmeric.

Here are some recipes which use pandan leaves:

Health benefits of pandan

Pandan is a fantastic source of vitamins and antioxidants which play a role in boosting the immune system and fighting off diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Some of the vitamins and antioxidants in pandan include:

  • Beta-carotene
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin A
  • Thiamin
  • Riboflavin
  • Niacin

Pandan’s leaves, fruit, flowers, roots and oil have been used in non-Western traditional medicine for thousands of years. Here are just a few of the plant’s health benefits:

May reduce arthritis pain

In Ayurvedic medicine, coconut milk is mixed with pandan leaves and applied to joints to relieve aches and stiffness caused by arthritis. This effect comes from pandan leaf oil which contains high amounts of phytochemicals known for their anti-inflammatory effects.

Improves oral and skin health

Some traditional medicine practices encourage chewing on pandan leaves to freshen breath and to stop bleeding gums. Dried, crushed pandan leaves are also used as a topical treatment for sunburn, minor burns and other skin problems. The tannic acids in pandan leaves have a fast cooling effect on the skin.

Looks after heart health

Pandan leaf is good for the heart – they’re a great source of carotenoids, which is a class of antioxidants. These antioxidants are known to minimise the risk of heart disease especially atherosclerosis, the narrowing of the heart’s arteries due to plaque buildup.

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