Pandan, known as the ‘vanilla of the East’, is a staple herb in Southeast Asian cuisines. The leaves can be used to infuse their fragrance to foods or as a natural green coloring in desserts.
- Pandanus amaryllifolius (scientific name)
- Pandan wangi
What is Pandan?
Pandan is a tropical plant with fragrant leaves which are used widely for flavoring in Southeast Asian cooking. Pandan leaves are sleek and elongated with a bright green color that grow in a fan-like arrangement. It is a popular and cost-effective substitute for vanilla and is used in a variety of savory and sweet dishes.
Can You Eat Pandan Leaves?
Pandan is not eaten straight, but rather used to flavor or impart aromatic fragrance to foods. Whole pandan leaves can be boiled with other ingredients or they are used to wrap foods to impart them with an aromatic note. They are also commonly pulverized to produce pandan extract.
What Does Pandan Taste Like?
It is often said that pandan is the vanilla of the East to the Western world. Although it is frequently compared to vanilla, it does not taste like vanilla at all. It is primarily due to it being widely used in cooking throughout Southeast Asia countries. In fact, raw pandan tastes sorta grassy, earthy, and nutty. It is commonly infused with coconut milk to create those delicate notes with a tropical taste.
Where to Buy
Pandan leaves can be found fresh, frozen, dried, and extract. If you are living in Southeast Asia countries where pandan is abundant, pandan leaves are readily found in wet markets or supermarkets. They are available fresh or frozen. Dried pandan leaves are sometimes sold too, but when it comes to Asian dishes, the recipe often calls for the usage of fresh pandan leaves.
Look for pandan at your local Indonesian, Thai, Vietnamese, Asian grocery store, or online. It is best if you can find fresh pandan leaves. However, if it is not available fresh, find them in the freezer aisle. Freezing does reduce the flavor so you will need to use more leaves than a recipe for fresh leaves suggest.
How to Choose
Choose pandan leaves that are bright green, well-hydrated, and free of any blemishes. Always check the bottom part of the leaves where they were cut. If they appear dry or colorless, it is an indication that they are no longer fresh. When buying frozen leaves, also avoid those that are covered in ice crystals or blackened, signs that the pandan has been frozen too long.
How to Store
Wash and dry pandan leaves before storing. To refrigerate fresh pandan leaves, wrap them with paper towels and keep them in an airtight container or freezer-safe ziplock bag. They can remain fresh for up to two weeks. You can also freeze them for up to 6 months before they start to lose their aroma. To defrost the leaves, you can leave them on the counter for an hour to thaw.
Pandan leaves can also be blended to create pandan extract. Pour the extract into molds and freeze them. Store frozen pandan extract in an airtight container or plastic ziplock bag. The aroma will contain well for up to 3 months.