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What is Pandan Leaf?

By C. K. Lanz
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The pandan leaf is found on the screwpine, a tropical plant that grows in certain European and Asian regions and is particularly popular in Southeast Asia. The leaves are approximately 4 inches (10 cm) long and are green, slender, shiny, and pleated. Commonly used to wrap foods like fish or shrimp, a paste made from the leaves can also imbue a dessert with sweetness and bright green coloring. Pandan leaves have been used to make thatched roofs, baskets, and grass skirts as well. This plant is believed to have medicinal properties and is an effective and natural cockroach repellent.

When used in cooking and baking, the pandan leaf is often pounded into a sweet paste that is diluted with water. The paste adds citrus and pine overtones and a green tint to cakes, crepes, ice cream, and curry sauces. When making rice, pandan leaves can be placed on top of the boiling grains to add flavor and sweetness. It is also traditional to deep fry or grill chicken wrapped in these leaves.

The leaves and other parts of the screwpine contain alkaloids and glycosides, organic compounds that can provide health benefits to humans and animals. The plant's flowers are often chewed as a laxative, while the pounded roots produce a juice that is said to ease chest pain. Screwpine bark can be used in a bath to treat skin irritation or brewed in a tea to relieve a cough.

Chewing a pandan leaf is believed to freshen the breath and reduce gum and mouth pain. The leaves can also be brewed with lemongrass or safflower to make a tea used to treat stomachaches and to revitalize women who have recently given birth. Sunburns and other skin irritations or diseases can be soothed by taking a bath in water with boiled leaves. The foliage is used as an arthritic pain reliever and an antiseptic for healing wounds and skin disorders, including leprosy and acne. Diabetics and those that suffer from ulcers may also find it to be beneficial.

Screwpine foliage is rich in antioxidant flavonoids and, as a result, is thought to have anti-cancer properties. This benefit is attained by consuming the leaves in rice, soup, as a wrap, or in desserts. Sweet ice tea that has been boiled with three or four pandan leaves is an additional way to enjoy the screwpine's health benefits. It is important for individuals to consult with a medical professional prior to taking any herbal supplements to avoid potential side effects or interference with other medications.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By CaithnessCC — On Jun 16, 2011

@yumdelish - It largely depends on what you are making. You could subsitute banana leaves if the food needs to be wrapped in something, though perhaps they would be equally difficult to source.

If the pandan leaves are part of a savory recipe it's fine to use coriander and kaffir leaves, or even pandan essence. You should be able to order that online.

Sweet dishes will often take a bit of vanilla or almond instead. Be aware that the taste and consistency won't be the same, but it's not a bad thing to experiment a little with recipes, right?

By yumdelish — On Jun 16, 2011

I have a great book full of Thai recipes, but a few of them call for ingredients which I have been unable to find locally. Is there any reliable pandan leaf substitute that would give similar results?

By Bakersdozen — On Jun 15, 2011

Pandan leaves are a miracle healer. Did you know that they can be used to treat skin diseases such as leprosy? They can also be boiled and used to soothe sunburn.

I don't really understand the chemical make up of this plant but I know it has anti-carcogenic qualities too.

By OeKc05 — On Jun 14, 2011

Chicken in Thailand is often fried wrapped in pandan leaves -- I saw this all the time when I was traveling there. Apparently, the leaves allow the chicken to retain moisture, so it is tender and juicy.

The night before we left, I asked the chef in one of my favorite restaurants there how he made his pandan chicken, and he shared the recipe with me.

Here's how it works: you must first smash peppercorns, coriander roots, and garlic into a paste. Then, add palm sugar, soy, sesame oil, milk, and cooking wine to the paste and mix well. Add half of the sauce to the chicken and marinate for about one hour while refrigerated.

Simmer the remaining half of the sauce for about 5 minutes. Once the chicken has marinated for an hour, make packets from pandan leaves and insert one cut of chicken into each packet. Fry the packet for 3 to 4 minutes on each side on medium heat until brown.

By lighth0se33 — On Jun 14, 2011

Is this the same tree as the Madagascar screw-pine? If so, then I think my neighbors have one of these! It's actually a really popular ornamental tree around where I live. Funny though, I never knew that you could use it for cooking. I guess you really do learn something new every day.

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