The taste of pandan (screw palm), or to be more precise: Pandanus amaryllifolius, is perhaps the most tropical scent and taste there is to me. Pandan fragrance is described as warm nuts with vanilla or sweet freshly baked white bread or buttered warm popcorn. It is also known as the “Vanilla of Asia”, I read in the English wiki page. Vanilla originally comes from Mexico.
Other species, which are not edible, are used to make baskets and clothes or to build houses. But this screw palm has even more uses. The smell, for example, appears to be able to combat the American cockroach; they don’t like the scent and stay away. Maybe it will work against Donald Trump too; also a famous American cockroach.
Pandanus amaryllifolius is the species that can be used as a herb. You can give loads of flavors to desserts, cakes, or add extract to savory dishes with chicken, for example. If you use the extract, your dish will also turn green.
The bright green that is often showed in deserts with pandan is not created directly because of the screw pine leaves but is because of suji leaves (Dracaena Angustifolia) that are added. This leaf does not give any flavor, but it does have a crackling bright green color. I’m still looking for suji leaves, because I definitely want to make myself bright green extract.
Synthetic pandan extract works very well and the taste is okay, perhaps a bit sharper than homemade extract. If you prefer not to use flavors that are made in the lab, you can also make your own extract.
Make the extract yourself
You can easily make pandan extract yourself. You need fresh pandan leaves that you can get from the freezer at an Asian shop. Do not keep them in the freezer for too long -one year max- because they lose taste and smell.
I start by making pandan water. I cut 5 pandan leaves into 1 cm pieces. I add just enough water so the blender has enough fluid to work and will make the leaves as fine as possible.
I strain the mix through a towel and squeeze it well. The water is now beautifully green; this is pandan water.
For pandan extract, you have to let this sit for at least 24 hours. The sediment that forms is pandan extract! You just need to carefully scoop away the water on top.
The fibers that remain in the sieve can be used to place in the water for steaming rice, or vegetables.
You can also reuse the light green water. It has a slightly bitter taste, but that largely disappears if you add the water to your coconut soup or to the broth of your sajur lodeh, for example. Makes the whole dish taste warmer and better :-).
Pandan probably comes from the Maluku Islands. When it was first described, the plants were found on the Moluccas. Male plants have also been found there, which could indicate that the origin of pandan is actually the Moluccas, but we cannot say that with certainty.
2-Acetyl-1-pyrroline (2AP) is the chemical that makes this particular pandan fragrance. It gives white bread, jasmine or basmati rice and the Vallaris flower that specific scent.
2AP also provides the strong smell of Syberian tiger and Indian Leopard urine!
On this blog I regularly make recipes with pandan.