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Sweet Herbs - Pandan - Pandanus amaryllifolius, P. tectorius

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Pandan - Pandanus amaryllifolius, P. tectorius

Pandan or screwpine species grow in the tropics from India to Southeast Asia, northern Australia, and the Pacific islands. The leaves of P. amaryllifolius are used as a flavoring and a wrapping for food. Kewra essence, a favorite flavoring of the Moghul emperors of India, is extracted from P. tectorius flowers.

Culinary uses

To use pandan leaves, pound or scrape them with the prongs of a fork to release their flavor, then tie in a loose knot so that the fibers do not come loose.

Add a leaf or two to rice before cooking to give it a light fragrance, as they do in Malaysia and Singapore. Cooks there also use pandan leaf as a flavoring for pancakes, cakes, and creamy desserts made with sticky rice or tapioca. A knotted leaf is sometimes added to a soup or curry, and in Sri Lanka it adds its flavor to curry powder. Leaves are also used to wrap food. Thai cooks steam or fry parcels of pandan-wrapped chicken or weave leaves as containers for desserts.

Kewra essence is used in India to flavor pilafs and meat dishes as well as sweets and kulfi. It can be diluted with a little water and sprinkled into a dish just before serving. It also gives a special flavor to homemade lemonade.

Good with chicken, coconut, curried dishes, palm sugar, rice.

Combines well with chili, cilantro, galangal, ginger, kaffir lime, lemon grass.

Tasting notes

Pandan leaf smells sweetly fresh and floral, lightly musky, with notes of new-mown grass. The taste is pleasantly grassy and floral. Leaves have to be bruised or cooked to release their flavor. Kewra essence has a sweet, delicate musk and rose aroma.

Parts used

Leaves, flowers.

Buying and storing

Fresh pandan leaves may be found in Asian markets. They keep well in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for 2–3 weeks. Neither frozen nor dried pandan can match fresh leaves for fragrance. Bottled leaf extract has an unnaturally bright color and quickly loses what aroma it has. Pandan powder has a light grassiness that fades after a few months. Kewra essence or kewra water (essence mixed with water) will keep for 2–3 years if tightly closed and stored away from strong light.


Pandan trees, with their shiny, sword-like leaves growing spirally around the trunk, can be seen in gardens throughout southern Asia. They grow easily, especially in damp areas. Leaves are harvested at any time; flowers are at their best soon after they open.

Fresh leaves

Juice from the leaves is used for coloring food; to extract the juice, put 4–5 coarsely chopped leaves into a blender with a little water.

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