From bubble tea to dalgona candy, the rise in popularity of Asian food has introduced dozens of new flavors into American markets. Taro, matcha, black sesame, ube, and red bean are  just some of the well known flavors that milk tea or filled mochi lovers have come to enjoy here in the states. This steady rise in various southeastern and eastern flavors have left one green delight poorly underrepresented. Allow me to introduce you to the next hot flavor to add to your palette—pandan.

What is Pandan?

Pandan—a.k.a pandanus amaryllifolius (for all of the plant and binomial nomenclature enthusiasts out there) is a selectively bred plant most prolific throughout Southeast Asia. Pandan can be described as having a creamy, slight coconut-y, grassy, and nutty flavor. It is a complex flavor to describe, but a simple enjoyment to taste. However, the pandan leaf has various purposes beyond the kitchen, such as natural green dye, insect repellent, and for fragrance. 

Bush of Pandan Leaf ใบเตย

yamagiwa2000 on Flickr

In regard to culinary uses, pandan is extremely versatile as well. From being used as a paste to being juiced, pandan can do it all. Pandan can be used to create pandan puddings, custards, cakes, breads, drinks, and much more! The whole leaf is often used to add flavor to curry, rice, and chicken either by placing a leaf or wrapping the leaf around the food item to let the items soak up the aroma and essence of the pandan leaf.

Pandan is highly nutritious , with high contents of beta carotene, iron, and fiber. It has additional health benefits such as controlling blood sugar, aiding digestion, improving oral health, and potentially reducing arthritis pain.

Popular Recipes that Use Pandan

Whether you're craving sweet or salty, pandan has your back! Below are various popular southeastern foods that incorporate pandan, each simple and delicious to make!

Pandan Chicken

LeonardKong on Flickr

Gai Hor Bai Toey is Thai chicken wrapped in pandan leaves. The chicken is first prepped and marinated and then it’s wrapped in a pandan leaf to be steamed. Then the chicken is fried (pandan leaf and all!), and served with a sweet and salty sesame sauce on the side.

punctuated on Flickr

Buko Pandan is a popular dessert in the Philippines, consisting of young coconut, agar-agar, tapioca pearls, jelly cubes, and evaporated and condensed milk. All of that is then mixed together and flavored with pandan flavoring. This creamy, textured treat is a great dessert to eat during the summer!

Pancake with Custard, Corn Tako - i Spicy

avlxyz on Flickr

One of my personal favorite pandan treats comes from Thailand, a Coconut Custard Dip, or Sangkhaya, it’s a coconut custard, but the addition of pandan flavoring not only gives the dip a vibrant colorful color, but also adds a nice mild nature-like flavor. It pairs nicely as a topping to toasts, waffles, pancake, or just by the spoonful!

Banh Bo Nuong (pandan and tapioca cake)

Andrea_Nguyen on Flickr

Bánh Bò Nướng or  honeycomb cake is another way to use pandan! Hailing from Vietnamese cuisine, it has a spongy texture, and the pandan flavor gives the cake a rich green color as well as the nutty, grassy pandan flavor. Coconut milk is also used in to make Bánh Bò Nướng and, as you may have noticed, coconut is a common pairing with pandan given how well they complement each other!

flour, sugar, pandan for pandan pizzelle recipe

HungryHuy on Flickr

Pandan is a milder flavor, so when paired with the jellies, wheats, grains, and batter of foods it serves as a nice undertone of sweetness that leaves you hungry for more.

Next time you want to bring a touch of green to your table, try pandan! There are tons of recipes that use pandan from savory to sweet, liquid or solid form. It’s time for the underdog to rise up and pandan is here to pave the way!