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Monday, September 21, 2009

When There is Pandan, The Cooking's Done.

1. Fragrant Pandan
We have a common garden plant here that many asian mothers who loves to cook also loves to have in their homes. The common name of this plant is screwpine pandanus and its botanical name is Pandanus Amaryllifolius. Locally, we call it the pandan wangi, meaning fragrant pandan. Yes, I have one in my kitchen garden too. It is a cook's faithful servant and companion. Here, in South East Asia, the pandan is cultivated .

Scientific name: Pandanus amaryllifolius
Common name: Fragrant Pandan, Screwpine
Chinese name:七葉蘭 (qi ye lan  - seven leafed orchid)
Malay name: Pandan Wangi
Synonym: Pandanus odorus, Pandanus latifolius
Family: Pandanaceae
Origin: Moluccas, Indonesia

2. A bundle of Pandanus amaryllifolius leaves

Well, if you don't grow it, you can also buy it from any wet markets or hypermarkets here. They sell in bundles like this. This one is sold by a farmer who grows her own organic vegetables. It costs only RM 50 cents. Also, if you do not grow this plant inside your house compound but plant it somewhere outside your home, it is a free for all thing. Other people may be tempted to cut off a portion of the leaves. Maybe they won't ask if you are not looking. Afterall, it is an emergency! They need it to cook a great main dish and desserts to satisfy loved ones.

3. My pandan plant

How to grow the pandan plant?

If I want to grow this plant, I don't go to the nursery. I will go to the market and tell the seller that I wish to grow it. The kind seller will select a stalk that has tiny roots at the base. Then I can go back home to root it by putting it in a container of water and let it stand for a few days until roots appear. Thereafter I will plant it in the well-drained soil.

The pandan is an ideal plant to have in our backyard. The leaves are shiny, look like long blades and they are green the whole year through. I have never seen any flowers or fruits from this plant though. The plant doesn't need much care and it is seldom attacked by insects or diseases. Once established, I do not need to fertilize it anymore. Watering is only needed during dry season. After we cut off some portions of the leaves for cooking, it will grow back very soon. When left to grow wild, it can develop many branches which make it look quite bushy. It actually blends in to add to the beauty of our tropical landscape and home gardens.

Special note for those growing pandan in cooler climates
Pandanus amaryllifolius, being a tropical plant loves the warm and humid conditions. It is advisable to plant pandan in a container because it can't survive the cold and frost. You have to bring it indoors or place it in a greenhouse during the winter months and reduce the watering. Do not wet the leaves as the water droplets may freeze and damage the plant or the dampness may lead to rotting.

4. Pandan plants in a community garden

We use the leaves mainly for cooking. Just like you have the essence/extract of vanilla beans for western cooking, we have the pandan leaves. For example, we can tie a few leaves together into a knot and cook it together with our pot of rice. It gives the rice a sweet, tasty aroma. It also adds a distinctly good flavour to the rice. It is a must have for cooking 'nasi lemak' or coconut flavoured rice. The leaves are not eaten but discarded after the cooking process.

Other uses:
5. Pandan flavoured bun

1. In the picture above, our local baker has used pandan leaves to line this curry chicken bun.

2. Pandan cakes and even pandan moon cakes - the juice extracted from the pandan leaves are added as an ingredient to give it a pandan flavour and the green colour.

3. Thai sytled cooking - the leaves are used to wrap the meat before it is deep fried, e.g. Thai styled pandan chicken

4. Desserts - Here, we have what we call the 'kuih' and dessert drinks. Kuih is a dessert made from a few types of flour. Here, pandan leaves are pounded or blended to extract its juice to give the kuih the green colour. It also adds flavour to the kuih and makes it more tasty. The leaves can also be shapped into a box. Here, cooking ingredients are poured into it. It acts as a 3-in-one, i.e. mould cum storage container cum packaging. For dessert soup/drinks, we boil the leaf to get its flavour and aroma, thereafter the leaves are discarded. We can also use it to cook Chinese dessert soups or 'tong-shui' like bobo-caca, sweet potato, peanuts, sesame, black bean, red bean, mung bean, wheat, sago, or other grain soups.

5. We also have pandan essence. Like vanilla essence, it is used to add flavour to cakes and other confectionery items, examples are pandan flavoured ice-cream, breads and buns.

6. Some people use dried pandan leaves as a natural insect (e.g. cockroach) repellant.

7. Others use the leaves to make potpourri, e.g. in malay weddings.

8. In aromatherapy, its fragrance is used in traditional cosmetics, hair care and body scrubs.

9. Some people use the leaves to refresh rooms.

If you wish to try out some recipes of these delightful dishes, do visit Kuali. Just type in the word 'pandan' under the search option and you will be rewarded with quite a number of illustrated dishes and how to cook them.

Have you see the pandan plant before?
Can you grow it in your area?
Do you have any other suggestions related to it's uses?


  1. Hi Autumn Belle, this is a beautiful plant and thank you for all the information surrounding its cultural and cooking uses in your area. How nice to be able to buy rooted pieces from the farmer's market too. I love any plant that has so many uses!

  2. I love pandan chicken and I buy it here form an asian food store. This is imported from Thailand. I tried making it from scratch but it did not taste the same. Perhaps I used the wrong species of Pandanas. I will call a Malaysian lady who lives here to ask her about it and if she has a plant to give me. That bun looks delicious.

  3. Very interesting. I knew nothing about these leaves. Now that I know how they are used I can find them at my local produce market. Thank you.

  4. Frances, pandan leaves are widely used here and it is part and parcel of asian cooking.

    Helen and Poetic Shutterbug, the secret is in the fresh leaves. When refrigerated or dried, it looses much of its aroma. To make tasty pandan fried chicken, I suggest you lightly crush the leaves with your hands or a fork before wrapping it onto the chicken meat. Later when you fry it, it will release the aroma.

  5. mmmmm, the chicken curry bun looks interesting :D yummy

  6. Can any pandanas work? We have the tall ones by the seaside and the variegated ones.

  7. I really really really wish I could try some of these dishes you mention! I think I may have seen some items in the Asian supermarket with Pandan. I will have to look more carefully next time. I like the idea of using the leaf as a wrapper for flavor.

    I do love any type of tong shui - and there's a place we go to that always offers it after dinner - my fave is the one with tapioca, coconut milk, and that root veggie I'm totally blanking on right now - it's sort of potatoey and sort of whitish/purplish/grayish. You know what I mean!!

  8. I learn about many wonderous plants from you that I've never seen or heard of. This sounds and looks like a delightful plant!

  9. Wow, what a wonderfully diverse plant and it looks good too. I am going to have to look into this one for my area.

  10. Barry, this bun is really delicious, fresh from the bakery.

    Helen, the pandanus is a very diverse group, some with flowers and fruits too but this specie I mention here is the one. Before doing this post, I too got all confused because of some mix ups info from the internet as well. A clue is to try to smell the leaves. If you can smell a sweet savoury fragrance from the leaves even without sractching or cutting them, its a good one.

    Wendy, if you love tong-shui, all the more you should boiling the tong-shui with pandan leaves. You'll love it! To some of us, eating tong-shui without pandan is like eating a cake without vanilla. Regarding the taro root, I found out this name now i.e. from you. I only eat it during the Mid-Autumn aka Moon Cake Festival. Thanks for the brainwave.

    Ms Daisy and Lesan,
    This pandan is not a beautiful plant but it sure brings us (mothers and cooks) a lot of happiness when we see the happy faces of our loved ones after the meal.

    My dear friends, do try out the pandan dishes. I think you can easily find them at the Thai/Malaysian/Fusion eateries and International buffets spreads. Then you'll know what I mean. Smell the exotic aroma and your tastebuds will be stimulated!

  11. Wow!! I didn't know something like this existed. I'm going to find out more and if I could grow it here.
    I just wrote a post on lemon grass today.

  12. wow, now I am really curious and want to try some pandan dishes. Seems like you can use pandan in all kind of dishes!

  13. I haven't heard of this plant before. Interesting facts about it's uses in the kitchen. I bet the chicken is delicious!

  14. Hello,
    Thanks for all the info, I wish we had this plant available in the states. It looks very adaptable to many recipes.

  15. Hello Autumn Belle, yes indeed! Pandan is really a must to have in our homes. I use the leaves more in desserts especially in making 'kaya'. Natural flavouring is the best! Btw, Thank you for your encouraging words you left me in my blog. I really appreciate it. Happy cooking, gardening and blogging!

  16. I've never seen the Pandan, but would love to taste it in cooking. From your description it sounds yummy.

  17. ~ and speaking of which, I had my first moon cake of the season this afternoon! :)

  18. Oh how I'd love to have a bite of that bun!
    And to taste pandan juice... I wonder what the flavor is similar to?? Alice

  19. I'm glad it's such an easy plant to grow. I keep having to chop some off as it is growing 'wild 'outside the house. I use some in the car as a freshener!.

  20. I have a similar looking plant but I didn't know its name! I'm so glad you posted on this. Sometimes I add a few leaves to boiling tea. It's so interesting to learn of its several uses. Maybe I should start with Pandan Chicken.... The wonders of learning by visiting blogs!!! Thank you, Autumn Belle!

  21. Thank you for a wonderful background on what sounds like a great plant to have around when baking!

  22. Belle, we have pandan too... branching out leisurely. Kakdah only takes one or two leaves for a menu. NASI LEMAK!! ~bangchik

  23. One thing about growing pandan is that it either thrive or dies in some conditions. I found that pandan requires lots of water - like a swamp enviorment plant. Also it repels cockroaches.

    Pandan taste delicious when the leaves are added for making jelly.

  24. Urban Green, I wondering if you have this in your region too and whether it is being used in cooking.

    Sandy, we use pandan leaves in tongshui. I don’t think they do that in China or Hong Kong. But I think you can grow it there. Our climate is very similar to Hainan Island’s.

    Amy, Rosey, Mary Delle, Snowcatcher, the pandan chicken is a favourite dish at Thai restaurants.

    Stephanie, yes! Pandan makes delicious and yummy green kaya, our Malaysia ‘coconut jam’ which is great when spread on toasted bread. I love our Kopitiam’s buttered-kaya toast with eggs and hot coffee.

    Wendy, Ah Yes, I had my first moon cake this morning too. The filling is mung bean with sesame and single egg yolk.

    BATGT, there is curried chicken meat inside the bun. We use pandan juice to give a green colour to desserts and confectioneries. I have never tried pandan juice yet. Pandan flavour is sweet and aromatic, quite similar to vanilla. Sometimes, pandan is used in curries too but not vanilla.

    Sunshine Girl, some of my lady friends are using pandan leaves as an air freshener in their car too. You are lucky to have a wild pandan growing outside your home. In our area, most of the pandans around here are semi bald! I guess they are making pandan dishes quite often. Sometimes, my own pandan plant cannot grow fast enough for me, so I have to buy more from outside.

    Kanak, that reminds me, some people like to put a pandan leaf cut into a few pieces, into hot tea before drinking. The tea can be made from tea bags. English tea will be fine too.

    Bangchik, pandan certainly makes the nasi lemak tastes good. Some of us use pandan leaves in cooking our everyday plain rice too. It smells like nasi lemak! Without the coconut milk, it is more heathy and less worry about obesity and diabetes.

    James, I grow my pandan plant in a sandy area. I find that it does better on the ground rather than a container. I never apply any fertilizer to it. Those at the ditch garden are surviving on their own and nobody waters them. I too have heard from many people that pandan repels cockraoaches, that’s why they are using the dried leaves at home and inside their car too.

    Pandan is so much a part of our lives, I guess many Malaysians have used it before in one way or another.

  25. Thanks for writing about the many uses of the pandan leaves. We use pandan when cooking our rice daily. But our pandan in the backyard does not supply enough leaves for other uses. I would love to have some pandan leaves in the car.

    1. Ismail, I guess you need to grow more pandan in your backyard. I'd give top priority to those pesticide free pandan leaves in cooking rice, hehe. We can always buy pandan from the wet market or night market, even supermarkets or hypermarkets for other uses, e.g. use in the car.

  26. Hi,

    Saw your pandan growing post. I have a question in regards to the roots. My Pandan plant is growing alright but after looking on the web, most plant have the upper part of roots exposed but mine was in the soil. Please advise is ti alright or I should exposed them.
    I have some shoots but tried to plant one but unsuccessful. How high or what is required to look out before I can replant. Thanks.


    1. As long as the pandan has roots growing out at the base, eg. it has rooted, you can transplant it to soil on the ground or a container. I have tried doing that successfully even when the roots are only a few cm long. We normally cover all the roots with soil. Thereafter as the plant matures, there will be some exposed roots. There is no need to cover the exposed roots. Pandan plants seem to like it this way. The plant will continue to grow bigger and produce offsets. Most important is adequate watering.

  27. The second image(A bundle of Pandanus amaryllifolius leaves) that u mentioned above... Can i root it by putting it in a container of water and let it stand for a few days until roots appear... And then plant it in pot... plz reply..

    1. Yes you can. The bundle of pandan that I used for the photo above has some roots attached to it at the base, even though it is not visible in the photo. I can easily root it in water. If the stalk is cut too far up from the base, then it is more difficult to root as you may not find any root nodes on it.

  28. My workmate made some pandan sticky rice sweets. Does anybody here know o a recipe? I now have a pandan plant im going to try to keep growing!


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