What is pandan leaf? It’s the source of some delicious, vibrantly green treats. Read on to find out how to use pandan, what it tastes like, and more.
My roommate and I are on our fourth or fifth rewatch of The Great British Bake Off and one of our favorite winners is 2022’s Syabira Yusoff. Originally from Malaysia, this baking queen incorporates a lot of traditions from her home country into her bakes. One of her most successful was a coconut and pandan cake, which even impressed Paul Hollywood, a notorious snob who turns his nose up to anything untraditional. Don’t be like Paul Hollywood; let’s learn to love pandan together!
What is pandan leaf?
In a culinary setting, pandan refers to the leaves of a pandan plant. At first glance, the uninitiated may confuse pandan for a standard house plant. However, the long, blade-like leaves are fragrant and chock full of flavor. I wouldn’t try to eat ficus, but I’d certainly eat pandan.
Pandan is hardly a “new” culinary sensation. Many countries of Southeast Asia have been enjoying it as an ingredient for centuries. Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Cambodia all incorporate pandan into their cuisines.
What does pandan taste like?
Like matcha and other plant-based ingredients, pandan has an earthy smell and taste, similar to fresh cut grass. But that’s not all. Pandan is complex! So, what is pandan flavor? It’s that grassiness accompanied with a sweet vanilla flavor. It’s not too overpowering, making it a nice accompaniment to other flavors.
What is pandan used for?
Pandan can be used in a few different forms. You can make pandan juice by blending the leaves with water. If you let that juice settle, the pigment left at the bottom of the container is pandan extract. There’s also pandan powder, made from pulverized freeze-dried pandan leaves or evaporated pandan juice. You can also cook with the leaves themselves.
Powdered or liquid pandan is often used in desserts. It imparts a striking, almost neon green color to cakes or other treats, and adds a pleasant aroma and flavor.
Pandan is commonly paired with coconut. Sometimes the leaves are soaked in coconut milk before use, or they are used as a wrap to cook chicken or rice, infusing foods with their flavors.
Where can you get pandan?
I’ve been searching my usual grocery stores for pandan with no luck; it’s going to be tough to find in your local Ralph’s or Von’s. Thankfully, I am near several excellent Asian grocery stores that carry it, either fresh, dried, in a paste, or as an extract. You can also sometimes find the leaves frozen.
How do you pronounce pandan?
On GBBO, they say “pahn-dahn,” which sounds right to me. I’ve also heard “pan-dan” with the A’s sounding like they do in the word hat. There’s also the possibility of “pan-dn.” All three are acceptable, according to my research.
If you want to be really crass, you can call it by its alternate name: screwpine. But I don’t think Prue and Paul would take kindly to that.