Spice support: pandan leaf

 pandan chiffon cake

When Yvonne Ruperti moved to Singapore, she noticed that there were a lot of green foods – things that non-natives would not expect to be green, like cakes, buns, and bread. At first she assumed they were flavored and colored with green tea, but she soon learned that pandan leaf contributed the bright green hues and delicate floral flavor. 

Pandan leaves come from the shrub Pandanus, aka screwpine. This shrub isn’t a pine tree; it is a member of the lily family and is native to Indonesia and Madagascar. According to Harold McGee (in On Food and Cooking), the compound that provides pandan leaves their flavor is the same one “that gives basmati and jasmine rices their distinctive nutty aroma” and which is also found in popcorn and crabmeat. 

Pandan chicken

The long, sword-shaped leaves have many uses in and out of the kitchen, from thatching roofs and being woven into mats to adding color and flavor to baked goods and wrapping rice and meats before cooking. Pandan is used in sweet and savory dishes in Thai, Vietnamese, Indonesia, and other Southeast Asian cuisines, flavoring soups stews, rice dishes, cakes, and breads. The leaves can also be made into a tea.

According to The Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs, pandan leaves “have a sweet, grassy, slightly nutty aroma and a subtly floral, sweetish taste.” You can find fresh leaves in many Asian markets. Pandan is also available as a liquid extract and as a powder. When buying the powdered version, look for a vivid green color and a strong aroma; the color and flavor fade with age. 

Photos of Pandan chiffon cake from Serious Eats by Yvonne Ruperti and Pandan chicken from Food and Travel Magazine, April 2013.

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One Comment

  • annmartina  on  August 21, 2017

    I fell in love with all things pandan-flavored while I was in Singapore. The aroma is intoxicating (throw a pandan leaf into a pot of jasmine rice) and the flavor is one of my all-time favorites. The photo of the sponge cake above is bringing back wonderful food memories from Singapore aand making my mouth water just to look at it.

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