What to do With a Pandan Plant

We’re renting a house here in Kuching, one with a backyard. On first day after we arrived in Kuching, we went over to see the house. What do we find, but a stand of pandan growing over on one side of the yard!

Pandan Growing in our Yard

pandan growing in our yard

Pandan is a plant with long, tough green leaves. When cut or crushed, the leaves give off this wonderfully sweet, herbal aroma. Cooking with pandan leaves will infuse the pandan flavor into the food. For instance, toss a few pandan leaves in a pot of rice with some coconut milk, and you have nasi lemak!

When we were living in Hawaii, I had a huge stand of pandan growing in the side yard of my Mom’s house. I had nurtured this stand from a small keiki given to me by my friend’s mom. I was very proud of how large it had gotten. (And very sad when I found out my sister had pulled it all out!)

When we moved to San Jose, we couldn’t grow pandan because it is a tropical plant that can’t take the cool California winters. We had to make do with frozen pandan found in the Asian grocery stores. Most of the recipes we made calling for pandan actually used a bottled pandan extract paste. Fresh pandan was just too hard to come by.

Pandan growing in our yard

pandan growing in our yard

One of the first things we made in the new House of Annie was barley tea, boiled with pandan leaves. I was starting to come down with a sore throat, so this barley tea with pandan was perfect. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any gingko nuts or fuchok to make it more fancy.

Boiling Pandan with Barley

boiling pandan with barley

No matter. When it was finished, boiled and cooled, I drank nearly the entire pot by myself! It really hit the spot.

Barley Tea with Pandan

barley tea with pandan

We’re so happy to find this pandan stand in our yard. In actual fact, every house here in Kuching has a pandan plant growing. Our stand just happens to be so large because no one’s been living in the house for almost two years. That’s a lot of pandan to cook with!

So, we need your help. Give us recipes that call for pandan! Leave a comment and tell us what you’d do with all this fresh pandan.

Aloha, Nate

This post is entered in the 2nd Anniversary edition of the Grow Your Own roundup, created and hosted by Andrea of Andrea’s Recipes.

20 thoughts on “What to do With a Pandan Plant”

  1. >I love the smell of pandan. Cook it in nasi lemak will give that extra flavor. I wish I could grow pandan in my backyard.

  2. >Lucky you to have pandan in your backyard! Hubby loves this and I've been trying to get a pandan plant after mine died when I left it outdoors and there was a cold spell this spring. I nurtured that plant for 3 years! I can't seem to find a supplier with the right pandan species used for cooking.

    P.S. Glad you're settled there for the meantime.

  3. >Nate,

    There are lots of things that you can do with pandan. I believe that the Thais wrap chicken in it and deep fry it. You can also extract the essence from the leaves and make all sorts of stuff — like chiffon cakes, etc. You can also use it to infuse flavor into a local coconut "jam" called kaya or serikaya.

  4. >@all – thanks for your comments!

    @Zue – yep, nasi lemak is one option.

    @Tuty – thanks! I think Annie can decipher it. We'll try it out.

    @momgateway – I didn't know there were different kinds of pandan, and there's a right kind for cooking. Do tell?

    @Reid – a lot of folks commented on Facebook about pandan chicken. We will attempt it. Stay tuned!

  5. >Thanks a lot for the GYO post. I too absolutely love the aroma of pandan – even a simple addition of a knotted pandan leave into a pot of boiling hot rice can bring wonders to the overall taste.

  6. >Well, if you couldn't grow it in California then I definitely can't grow it in Virginia! The nasi lemak sounds delicious, though.

  7. >I love fresh pandan leave but as you said I can only get frozen pandan from asian market here.Btw,you can add pandan leave when you cook rendang or curry to give extra kick..I understand there are few type of pandan spices,some are really fragnant and some are not..glad you guys are settle in for good

  8. >I have never had pandan leaves, the fresh version sounds more appealing. I like this recipe, and wish I could just have a sip.

  9. >hey nate and annie!

    with so many pandan plants, you could try making a pandan brush for greasing pan or cake moulds or make your own pandan essence:

    6-8 large pandan leaves blended with 150ml (2/3 c) water to make about 1/2 c of pandan "juice". don't forget to strain and discard the solids!

    you can use it in things like onde-onde, kuih lopes, kuih cara, serimuka, kuih dadar, kuih cara, pandan jelly, etc. you'll need to use large amounts in each recipe tho – about 100-150ml.

    you could try making

  10. >@charm – thanks so much for all the recipe ideas!

    @jennifer – If you live on Oahu, try going to Maunakea Marketplace in Honolulu's Chinatown. There are lots of vendors there selling fresh Asian herbs. Maybe one of them will sell you a plant!

  11. >Hi Nate & Annie,
    I'm so jealous looking at your pandan plant. I'm currently trying to grow pandan plant in Chicago!! I know.. who am I kidding…right now the temp is only 7F (-15C). But I want to cook some dishes using this wonderful plant. Enjoy your stay in Malaysia. I grew up in Indonesia half of my life so I miss the food so much and try to recreate them here now that I'm into cooking 🙂

    Salam kenal,
    – Lisa 🙂

  12. Oh, I envy you your pandan plants! I live in central Europe and have to buy pandan leaves from the cold shelves of a Thai shop. I usually make pandan butter cake, kaya jam, seri muka and kuih bakar with the pandan juice extracted from the pulverised leaves. Lovely stuff!

  13. Pandanus leaves Long slender deep green
    leaves contain the most charming aroma
    due to the natural presence of 2-Acetyl-
    1-pyrroline. Any green sweet in Thailand
    is bound to be colored and aromatically
    infused with this special herb. There is no
    substitute, vanilla added to a recipe that
    calls for pandanus may taste good but will
    not taste Thai. I buy fresh when it’s available,
    and freeze some when I get home or I buy
    frozen leaves. Always trim the lighter colored
    bottom portion (it tastes like dirt). Keep fresh,
    wrapped tightly in the refrigerator for a few
    days, frozen they keep for months.

  14. Hi, Annie! I live in San Jose and after researching, I found Pandan could survive zone 9b… But you say it’s too cold? My first attempt failed as it died right after I repotted it. I reordered with the hope it was just that the plant went through shock. We’re you successful in any way? If not, mind sharing what may have attributed to it other than it being too cold?

    1. Hi Sharon,

      we’ve not tried growing pandan in our yard in San Jose. It’s hard to even find a live plant here to start with! Where did you find yours?

      1. Thanks for replying on a very old thread! I ordered my plant online and it shipped her beautifully and in one piece. Still green, albeit small: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00GYYCA0Y/ref=sr_ph_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1470886359&sr=sr-1&keywords=pandan

        I planted it into a bigger pot and it died about two weeks later. I assumed it was due to transplant shock since it seemed the roots had not taken to the pot it was shipped in. I’ve since re-ordered, so I hope to have better luck soon. Please share what you works for you if you decide to order one for yourself! =D

        1. Sharon,
          if you transplant and your plant is not doing well, i recommended that you take it out of the pot and soak in the water until it you see if the root is growing and repot the plant

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