Pandan is a staple herb and spice in Thailand, Malaysia, and across the whole of Southeast Asia. The unique scent and taste it gives to food makes it a popular choice for cultivation, but it has many uses. Cab drivers in Vietnam are especially fond of pandan leaves, using them as air fresheners for their cars.
Pandan is most often consumed as a paste, powder, infused water extract, or made into an essential oil. The leaf is seldom eaten directly, save in a few select dishes.
Many people grow their own pandan since, left undisturbed, it will mature into a small tree with leaves about two meters in length. Pandan’s medicinal properties have been remarked upon for centuries and modern science has only recently begun to research its benefits more extensively.
Preliminary research into pandan has identified a number of important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants known to support health. For instance, pandan is a rich source of vitamin A, an essential compound for eye health that may even help to prevent cancer.
Although more research is needed, many potential health benefits of pandan have already been found, such as:
Traditional medicine prizes pandan for its role in pain relief, especially arthritis and joint pain. Researchers have found that oils made from pandan extract are rich in phytochemicals known to relieve symptoms of arthritis. As an added benefit, they can also help ease headaches and earaches.
Studies support the claim that pandan leaf is good for the heart. Indeed, pandan leaf was found to be a particularly excellent source of carotenoids—a class of antioxidants. These are known to reduce the risk of developing atherosclerosis, the narrowing of the arteries of the heart due to plaque buildup.
In Southeast Asia, the dried, crushed leaves of pandan are often used as a topical treatment for minor burns, sunburn, and other skin problems. Although more studies are needed, preliminary research shows that the tannic acids in pandan provide fast cooling action for minor burns.
Consuming pandan may help people better control their blood sugar after eating. More research is needed, but some initial studies have shown that people who drink pandan tea after a meal have lower blood sugar than people who don’t.
Some of the vitamins and antioxidants in pandan include:
Nutrients Per Serving
Pandan leaf is too fibrous and stringy to be consumed directly. The leaves are instead usually ground into a powder or paste, or infused into water to make a paste or extract.
Since pandan has such a strong flavor, one or two handheld bunches of pandan leaves will usually be more than enough. Be aware that fresh leaves leave behind a much stronger scent than frozen or dried.
How to Prepare Pandan
Though it used to be hard to find, pandan leaf is becoming more and more common at grocery stores throughout the U.S., especially in bigger cities. It is most commonly found at Asian food markets and grocery stores.
Pandan leaves can be added straight to a pot of rice or stew and cooked until their flavor absorbs into the dish. Remove and discard the leaves before eating.
Making infused water extract is also a popular use for pandan. Finely chop the leaves, mix with water in a food processor, and blend. Wait a few minutes, then strain the mixture over a bowl to remove any solids and refrigerate the final product.
Here are some more ideas for using pandan in your cooking:
- Use fresh pandan leaves to add more flavor to the curry sauces popular in Thai and Malaysian cuisine.
- Cook pandan together with lemongrass, tomato paste, and water, then strain and use the resulting garnish as a meat marinade.
- Chop pandan leaves into a saucepan, add sugar and water, and cook over medium heat to make a sweet, pandan-flavored syrup.
- Add green-tinted pandan paste to sweet breads and baked goods.
- Wrap chicken or beef-based dishes in grilled pandan leaves.