Pandanus Leaves

All About Pandanus Leaves: Uses, Health Benefits, Storage, and More

Imagine walking through a dense tropical forest and coming across a unique plant with elongated, vibrant green leaves. As you get closer, a delightful aroma that is a mix of grass, rose, almond, vanilla, and a hint of coconut wafts through the air. Welcome to the world of Pandanus leaves, or as it is widely known, pandan. This versatile plant is revered not only for its unique taste, but also for its diverse culinary and non-culinary uses. So let’s unravel the mystery of this tropical wonder and discover its myriad of applications.

Short Summary

  • Pandan leaves are native to Southeast Asia and have a unique aroma, flavor profile, and visual appeal.
  • Pandanus leaves offer numerous health benefits alongside culinary uses such as flavoring dishes & natural food coloring.
  • When purchasing pandan leaves it is important to opt for firm deep green ones & store them properly for up to 6 months.

Understanding Pandanus Leaves

The pandanus amaryllifolius roxb, often referred to as pandan, is an aromatic tropical plant native to Southeast Asia. It’s a plant that’s been widely cultivated, and its blade-like leaves have made their way to kitchens across the globe. The pandan leaves are not just any ordinary leaves; they are a culinary delight. Characterized by their naturally sweet taste and a delicate aroma, they are also known as pandan wangi. If you’ve ever wondered what adds that sweet, grassy aroma with notes of vanilla to basmati rice or Thai desserts, it’s the pandan leaves.

In Southeast Asia, these leaves are like the vanilla of the East and have a pronounced flavor profile that’s hard to replicate. They are known to lend a unique flavor to dishes, reminiscent of:

  • grass
  • rose
  • almond
  • vanilla
  • subtle hint of coconut

This makes them an irreplaceable part of many sweet and savory dishes.

So let’s delve deeper into the origin, distribution, and characteristics of these phenomenal leaves.

Origin and Distribution

The pandan leaves, or daun pandan as they are known in Malaysian, are native to Southeast Asia where they thrive as a herbaceous tropical plant. These fragrant leaves are now widely cultivated and available in various countries across the globe, including:

  • South India
  • Sri Lanka
  • Indonesia
  • West New Guinea

If you’ve been to an Asian store, you might have come across these leaves sold fresh or even as frozen pandan leaves.

The pandan has many names, reflecting its global popularity. It’s known as:

  • Screwpine in English
  • Rampe in Hindi
  • Takonoki in Japanese
  • Bai Toey Hom in Thai
  • Chan Xiang Lan in Mandarin

So, the next time you come across these names, know that they all refer to the same fragrant leaves that have taken the culinary world by storm.

Appearance and Characteristics

A first glance at the pandan leaves might not reveal much – elongated, oblong leaves with a vibrant green colouring that varies depending on the harvesting process. But it’s when you plunge them into a pot of plain rice or a dessert that their true magic unfolds. The leaves are typically employed to impart flavor to various dishes, and when cooked, they possess a nutty, almond, rose-like, and slightly sweet flavor that can enhance the taste of even the most basic dishes.

The pandan leaves can grow up to two meters if the plant is left undisturbed and the leaves are not harvested, or one meter if the leaves are continuously harvested. Their flavor is often compared to that of a vanilla bean, and they exude a pleasant aroma that can transform the simplest of dishes into a gourmet delight.

Now that you’re familiar with pandan leaves, let’s explore their various culinary uses.

Culinary Uses of Pandanus Leaves

Pandan leaves are a true gift of nature to the culinary world. They serve as a flavor enhancer, natural food coloring, and a wrapping ingredient for assorted savory dishes. Their unique aroma and flavor have made them a staple in South and Southeast Asian cuisine, where they are used extensively in the form of pandan extract as a flavoring agent. Coconut milk, sticky rice, turmeric, and lemongrass are all suitable accompaniments, creating a symphony of flavors that is hard to resist.

Whether it’s a meat dish, a bowl of rice, a spicy curry, or a range of desserts, the pandan leaves have a way of elevating the dish to a whole new level. To understand how they do it, let’s break down their culinary uses into three main categories: flavor enhancer, natural food coloring, and wrapping ingredient.

Flavor Enhancer

As a flavor enhancer, pandanus leaves are truly unparalleled. They have a strong, grassy flavor with subtle notes of rose, almond, and vanilla. This unique flavor profile makes them an ideal addition to a variety of dishes, particularly rice dishes. They can augment the flavor of cooked rice, transforming a simple dish into a gourmet delight.

Take, for instance, the Malaysian rice dishes nasi lemak and chicken rice. The addition of pandan leaves lends these dishes a unique taste that is characterized as a combination of:

  • rose
  • almond
  • vanilla
  • coconut

This flavor profile not only enhances the taste of the dish, but also leaves a lasting impression on your palate.

Natural Food Coloring

Apart from enhancing the flavor, pandan leaves also add a beautiful green coloring to dishes. Thanks to their high chlorophyll content, they serve as a viable source of natural food coloring. This is particularly evident in Malaysian cakes where the extract of green pandan juice is used as a natural food coloring, adding an eye-catching hue to the cakes.

This use of pandan leaves not only makes the dishes visually appealing, but also enhances their nutritional value. So the next time you spot a dish with a vibrant green color, know that it’s the work of the versatile pandan leaf.

Wrapping Ingredient

The culinary uses of pandan leaves don’t stop at flavoring and coloring. They are frequently employed as a wrapping ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisine to envelop meats or sticky rice, and cooked to impart flavor. Dishes like Kuih Tako and Pandan Chicken incorporate pandanus leaves as a wrapping ingredient prior to frying.

This unique method of using pandan leaves not only adds an aromatic flavor to the food, but also makes the dish visually appealing. As the food cooks, the leaves release their flavor, infusing the dish with a unique taste and aroma. This is one of the reasons why pandan leaves are used extensively in the culinary arts.

Health Benefits of Pandanus Leaves

While pandan leaves are a culinary delight, they also pack a punch when it comes to health benefits. They have been found to be beneficial for various health conditions, such as:

  • aiding in blood sugar control
  • relieving joint and arthritis pain
  • managing blood pressure
  • improving liver function

In addition, they are rich in vitamins, antioxidants, and possess anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.

The leaves of catnip contain a variety of essential oils, glycosides, and alkaloids. Moreover, tannin and isoprene esters can also be found in small amounts. In traditional medicine, they have been used for a variety of purposes, such as:

  • In Malaysia and Singapore, they are used as a medicinal bath for women after childbirth.
  • In Thailand, catnip is used to treat diabetes.
  • In the Philippines, people utilize catnip to ease a sore throat.

However, it’s important to note that while pandan leaves may have the potential to reduce arthritis pain, manage blood sugar levels, and improve oral health, further research is required.

Non-Culinary Uses of Pandanus Leaves

The versatility of pandan leaves is not confined to the kitchen. They have a range of non-culinary applications as well, including:

  • Weaving
  • Crafting handicrafts
  • Encasing savory foods
  • Topical remedy for minor burns and skin ailments

Pandan leaves also find use as air fresheners, insect repellents, and potpourri. Their pleasant aroma makes them an excellent choice for naturally scenting the environment. In certain cultures, they are regarded as a sacred item. In Indian villages, the leaves are even thrown into open wells to impart a pleasant scent and flavor to the drinking water.

Truly, the uses of pandan leaves are as diverse as their flavor profile.

How to Choose and Buy Pandanus Leaves

Now that you’re well-versed with the diverse uses and benefits of pandan leaves, you might be wondering how to choose and buy them. When selecting Pandanus leaves, it’s best to opt for firm, deep-green leaves. Brown or shriveled leaves should be avoided as they are past their prime. You can find pandan leaves fresh, frozen, or dried at Asian stores or via the internet.

While buying packaged products, it’s imperative to examine the ingredients to ensure you’re getting the real deal. Once you’ve bought the fresh leaves, proper storage is key to maintaining their freshness and flavor, which brings us to the next section.

Preparing and Cooking with Pandanus Leaves

Before you can start cooking with pandan leaves, it’s important to know how to prepare them. The leaves should be torn to facilitate the release of more aroma during cooking. It is generally recommended to tie the leaves into a knot, as this renders them easier to handle when they are of shorter length and in one clump.

Pandan leaves, pandan paste, extract, and powder are all utilized in the culinary arts. The paste is produced by pounding fresh pandan leaves and removing the fibrous pieces, while the extract is produced by grinding the leaves with some water and then straining the mixture. Both paste and extract are utilized as a flavoring in recipes.

With these tips in hand, you’re now ready to cook with pandan leaves.

Storing Pandanus Leaves

Storing pandan leaves correctly is crucial to maintaining their freshness and flavor. Here are some tips for storing pandan leaves:

  1. You can store them in water for a period exceeding one week.
  2. If you’re storing them in the refrigerator, wrap the fresh pandan leaves in a damp paper towel or a plastic bag and store them in the vegetable drawer.
  3. They will remain fresh for approximately four days.

If you have a large batch of leaves, consider freezing them. They can be stored in the freezer for a period of approximately six months. As for homemade paste and extract, it is recommended to store them in the refrigerator, where they can last for one to three weeks.

Proper storage will ensure that you have fresh and fragrant pandan leaves ready for your next culinary adventure.

Substitutes for Pandanus Leaves

In case you can’t get your hands on pandan leaves, don’t worry. There are alternatives available. Pandan extract or essence, or vanilla, can be utilized to obtain a similar flavor profile. The pandan extract or essence is a concentrated form of pandanus leaves and can be utilized as an alternative in culinary preparations.

Vanilla, with its sweet, floral flavor, can also serve as a substitute for pandanus leaves. Other alternatives include ginger, matcha, or collard greens. While these substitutes may not perfectly replicate the unique flavor of pandan leaves, they will still lend a delicious taste to your dishes.


We have journeyed through the world of pandan leaves, uncovering their unique aroma and flavor, diverse culinary uses, health benefits, and non-culinary applications. We have also learned how to choose, buy, prepare, and store these leaves. While they may be unfamiliar to some, their unique flavor profile and versatility make them a worthy addition to any kitchen. So, whether you’re a seasoned chef or a cooking enthusiast, why not give pandan leaves a try? You might just discover your new favorite ingredient.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is pandanus called in English?

Pandanus amaryllifolius, commonly known as pandan in Malaysia, is often referred to as fragrant screwpine or vanilla grass in English.

What is pandanus leaf benefits?

Pandan leaves possess numerous health benefits, including the potential to lower blood sugar and relieve arthritis pain. The polyphenol antioxidants in pandan also have anti-hypertensive properties, may help prevent heart disease, and are beneficial for reducing atherosclerosis risk.

Additionally, oils extracted from pandan have been found to be a valuable source of phytochemicals which can provide relief from headaches, earaches, and arthritis symptoms.

What does pandanus leaves taste like?

Pandanus leaves have a naturally sweet taste and soft aroma, described as grassy with hints of rose, almond, and vanilla, verging on coconut.

They also share an aroma compound with basmati rice.

What is pandanus leaf in cooking?

Pandan leaves (also known as pandanus amaryllifolius or screwpine) are widely used in Southeast Asian and South Asian cuisines for flavoring, coloring, and scenting dishes. They can be crushed and soaked to create flavorings and colorings for cakes and other sweets, or used to wrap and perfume meats before steaming or grilling.

Pandan is incredibly versatile and is often used to make a savory Malaysian dish called nasi lemak.

How to store pandan leaves?

To store pandan leaves, keep them in water for up to one week or wrap them in a damp paper towel and place in the fridge for four days.

Alternately, freeze them for six months.