What is Pandan and How Do You Use It?

Pandan, a type of screwpine is an essential ingredient in South East Asian and South Asian cooking. With its sweet, fragrant, grassy aroma, it is widely used in both savoury and sweet dishes. Find out how!
pandan juice in small glass on brown background
fresh pandan juice

Pandan, a type of screwpine, is an essential ingredient in Asian cooking. With its sweet, fragrant, grassy aroma, it is widely used in both savoury and sweet dishes. 

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Pandanus amaryllifolius

Pandanus amaryllifolius is the culinary pandan that we know. It is a tropical plant that grows freely in many parts of Asia. I remember it sprouting up everywhere, bottom of trees, in the middle of an untended field; corner of a garden; almost anywhere!

If it wasn’t a much loved herb, it’d be a weed!

The funny thing about the pandan leaf is that you have to heat it to extract its flavour and aroma. When fresh, you can hardly discern any fragrance, but once heated, aroma molecules seem to burst out of nowhere.

cut pandan leaves on brown board with pestle and mortar in the background
cut pandan leaves ready to be chopped or pounded

Pandanus or Screwpine

There are over 750 species in the genus called pandanus, according to Wiki. They are palm like in appearance, with long, thin leaves, but are only distant relatives of the palm.

Besides the amaryllifolius, the Pandanus odorifer (kewra) and Pandanus julianettii (karuka nut) are the other edible members of this Pandanaceae family.

pandan plants
pandan leaves growing away – image from Wiki Commons

What is the English name of Pandan?

Pandan is often called fragrant screwpine or vanilla grass in English. I’ve tried, and I’ve tried, and I’ve tried, but I cannot, for the life of me, detect any vanilla notes in pandan leaves!

For those of you who grew up with it, and haven’t been influenced by any hype, can you?

Let me know in the comments below.

I have always called it daun pandan, as it is known in Malay. In Singapore and Malaysia, even the non Malay speakers call it daun pandan; I guess some local foods just have a universal name for all the ethnic groups.

beautiful green colour!

How to Use Pandan Leaves

Pandan leaves are used in both sweet and savoury dishes, as mentioned above. We use it for the aroma as well as the beautiful green colour. Here are some of the ways to use pandan leaves:

Use the juice to flavour and colour desserts and drinks

See the card below for precise instructions, but essentially, we chop up some pandan leaves, lighten with water, then squeeze the juice out. We used to pound the leaves with a pestle and mortar when we were little. Or grind it using a stone roller, called batu giling in Malay.

 extracting pandan juice is such an easy process
such an easy process

Pandan Juice can be used in:

  • cakes (like the very traditional pandan chiffon cake)
  • cupcakes
  • puddings (like rice pudding, sago pudding)
  • in drinks (like cendol and the Filipino Bulo Pandan drink)
  • spirits like gin and vodka, to infuse
  • my Pandan Mahalabia, a South East Asian twist to a Middle Eastern favourite

Use it to flavour rice

This is a very common practice. Pandan leaves added to rice gives it a lovely, sweet aroma. Think pilaus and biryanis and many Malay and Indonesian rice use pandan leaves like:

Use pandan to wrap food

The most famous of this is the Thai chicken wrapped in pandan leaves.  In the same way, you can wrap any small piece of meat and then barbecue it or even fry it. Not only will the leaf impart a beautiful fragrance to your food, but it will also stop it from drying out.

Use them in curries

Many Malay, Indonesian, Thai and even South Asian curries love pandan leaves! Ayam Masak Merah, a favourite curry of mine, is a classic example of such a curry. I guess I’d better share it here soon.

Think of your favourite curry, chances are, it’ll love this screwpine!

green pudding with coconut and palm sugar in champagne glass
Pandan Mahalabia with gula melaka and coconut

Where to buy them?

This one is easy, at least it certainly is in the UK. Most Chinese grocers or mini marts will sell them frozen, which retain all of the aroma you want. If you live in a town with a sizeable Asian population, chances are, you will get them fresh.

Otherwise, what do I always say? Get them online! Just do a Google search, and you’ll find half a dozen entries.

I used to grow pandan leaves, which did very well, kept on a sunny windowsill. When we went travelling for a few months in 2015, I gave away all my plants, and the pandanus is the only tropical evergreen that I’ve not replaced. The friend who took it managed to kill it within weeks, otherwise, I could have easily split the plant and grown it again.

Malay words used in this post

  • daun = leaf
  • batu = stone
  • giling = roll
  • batu giling = a rolling stone (no, not Mick Jagger!) – grinding stone, to be precise

What is Pandan and How Do You Use It?

Pandan, a type of screwpine is an essential ingredient in South East Asian and South Asian cooking. With its sweet, fragrant, grassy aroma, it is widely used in both savoury and sweet dishes. Find out how!
5 from 11 votes
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Course: Ingredients
Cuisine: Asian
Keyword: daun pandan, ingredients, pandan
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Servings: 6 (125ml (1/2 cup) pandan juice)
Calories: 8kcal
Author: Azlin Bloor

Ingredients

1. Extracting Pandan Juice

2. Using whole pandan leaves

Instructions

How to get pandan juice

  • Cut up your pandan leaves into 5cm (2″) lengths and place them in a chopper with enough water to allow them to be ground. You’ll end up with a wet, fibrous pulp.
  • Take the blade out, pour in the rest of the water and mix.
  • Strain the pandan juice into a bowl or jug and add to the recipe.
  • You can also get a second, lighter pressing of pandan juice by adding another half cup of water. Just like extracting coconut milk.

2. Using whole pandan leaves

  • Tie the pandan leaves up, with a knot in the middle.
  • Drop the leaves into the dish at the beginning of cooking time.
  • Take the leaves out before serving.

Notes

Nutrition info is from Wiki.
Potassium per 2 leaves: 93mg

Nutrition

Serving: 1recipe | Calories: 8kcal | Carbohydrates: 0.7g | Protein: 0.3g | Sodium: 13mg | Fiber: 0.3g | Sugar: 0.2g
Did you make this recipe?Mention @azlinbloor and tag #linsfood!
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15 thoughts on “What is Pandan and How Do You Use It?”

  1. I have seen them in the supermarket next to thai ginger and lemon grass. Today my curiosity got the better of me so I just broke a tiny bit and squeezed it. It smelt divine and was quite low in price. So I bought a bunch. Haven’t decided what recipe to use it in.

  2. 5 stars
    I heard the name and got curious. Now i read about sago pudding over here so gotta go search it. Thanks!

  3. Wayne Burris

    5 stars
    Never heard of this herb, but going to look for it now at the ethnic market nearby. Thanks.

  4. 5 stars
    Wow, this is great. I see them at the Chinese shop all the time, and always tempted to get them. Now I know what to do with them, I will! Thanks!

  5. 5 stars
    Thank you for this very informative article. I’m going to cook the nasi lemak this weekend and use these leaves.

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