If you thought there was no competition to vanilla, you might want to rethink. Known as the ‘Vanilla of the East’, pandan leaves are known for their strong, sweet, and grassy aroma that lend a distinct flavour to food. They are widely used, and are among the essential ingredients, in many South East Asian cuisines. Known as annapoorna leaves in India, pandan leaves were termed as the “new matcha” of the culinary world in Europe by English food writer Nigella Lawson in 2017. The green blade-like narrow leaves that span 60-80cm are also used as food wrapping in countries such as Thailand, Japan and Malaysia.
The fragrant sweet pine is known as bai toey hom in Thai, while the Malaysians know it as daun pandan and the Japanese as takonoki.
Besides, it is also used as a natural food colouring agent, insect repellant (especially roaches) and air freshener in many homes.
Here’s how you can use the wonder leaves:
1. Pandan leaves are best suited for boiling, steaming, sautéing, and frying, and used in both sweet and savoury dishes. They are used to wrap and cook meats or sticky rice to add a sweet and nutty flavour. They are also wrapped and deep fried to create a crunchy exterior. In addition to savory preparations, pandan leaves are also used to make desserts and drinks.
2. Pandan leaves pair well with turmeric, lemongrass, brown sugar, milk, meats such as fish, chicken, and pork, and rice.
3. When boiling rice, a pandan leaf is tied into a knot and thrown into the rice cooker to render the grains a subtle, sweet aroma.
4. Pandan water is one of the most refreshing thirst quenchers. Just grab a bunch of fresh leaves, boil them in water for several minutes and strain the water through a cheesecloth.
5. Pandan leaves contain laxative properties that act as a pain reliever to treat headache, ear pain, chest pain, and arthritis. To use pandan leaves as pain reliever, one could drink pandan tea twice a day. But if consumed regularly, it also has the capacity to decrease stomach spasms which could relate to inflammation and infection. It is also said to aid mothers in recovery after delivery.