The Taste and Aroma of Pandan Leaf: Its Many Uses in Thailand
One of the leaves you will find a lot in The Flower Market is Pandanus (often shortened to pandan)
Visit Thailand and savor the taste and aroma of pandan! Pandan is an herbaceous tropical plant that grows in Southeast Asia. This plant has upright, bright green leaves used for cooking many Thai and Southeast Asian dishes. For the Chinese, it is considered a fragrant plant because of its unique, sweet aroma. But in other Southeast Asian countries, it is known as the vanilla of the region because of its unique taste. But there’s more to pandan than meets the eye. In the next section, we’ll learn about the many uses of pandan leaves in Thailand.
Let’s start with pandan as a dessert. Yes, pandan can be a perfect dessert flavor plus gives a lovely green color. It is used the same way Western cultures use vanilla for flavoring. The fresh pandan leaves are pounded into a paste, then the fibrous pieces are removed while water is added sparingly. That is how the juice is extracted from the pandan leaves. It is best for cakes for the most part. Personally, we love it as pandan custard and also to dye the sweet sticky rice. However, it is used as flavoring in many otherThai desserts, like Kanom Krok Bai Toey, or Kanom Piak Poon Bai Toey.
Here’s another pandan trick, common in the good old days. But even up to this day, most Thais continue to do this when boiling rice. What they do is tie a pandan leaf into a knot and put it into the rice cooker while the rice is being cooked. It gives the rice a subtle and sweet aroma. Some say pandan-flavored sticky rice is perfect for dinner or lunch!
Next on the list is pandan water. The idea might seem strange, especially to westerners, but a glass of pandan water can be quite refreshing. Gather a bunch of pandan leaves, boil them in water for several minutes, and concoct the juice through a cheesecloth. The pandan-flavored juice is then chilled, after which it is perfect for drinking. Take note, however, that the water is only good for about three days before it goes off.
Pandan leaves are also used for food wrapping. They are particularly used as leaf wrappers for popular dishes such as Gai Kor Bai Toey (chicken wrapped in pandan leaves). Pandan leaves add fragrance to the meat during the cooking process. But they also retain the meat’s moisture, leaving them tasty and juicy when cooked. Pandan leaves are much thinner compared to broad banana leaves, which are best for food with juices. Pandan leaves make a perfect food wrap as well with their aroma and flavor.
It’s true that pandan has been used in Thai cooking since the Ayutthaya era. But pandan can be used as fragrant scents. While still on the plant, the leaves have little fragrance. But when you crush and extract the plant, the soothing scents will be released. In fact, if you take a cab in Thailand, you’ll see a bunch of fresh pandan leaves in the passenger seat. The idea is to have its natural fragrance released, as it will serve as your cab’s air freshener.
Finally, there’s more to pandan than meets the eye. If there’s one thing, pandan leaves have various health benefits. They contain natural healing properties which most Thais have used for ages. They are boiled, along with pandan roots, to make tea. They work best for chest pains, cramps, spasms, headaches, and to lower blood pressure. They are also made into medicines sold in traditional Thai pharmacies, where they are used as treatments for skin fungus, arthritis, and other ailments.
If you’re looking to learn more about Thai cooking in general, Market Experiences is your best option. Get in touch with us today and check out our Thai Cooking Classes in Bangkok