The flavourful screwpine leaves

THE sweet, floral and delicately musky pandan leaves or screwpine leaves (Pandanus amaryllifolius, P. tectorius) is often used as a flavouring and wrapping for food.

This tropical plant, of which its leaves and flowers are used for cooking, grows from India to South-East Asia, northern Australia and the Pacific islands.

With shiny fan shaped sprays of long blade like leaves, growing around a not-too-thick trunk, this plant is friendly to gardeners as it grows easily.

Fresh pandan leaves are the best to use in cooking as the frozen or dried ones pale in comparison.

The leaves need to be bruised or torn to allow the flavours to release, impressing the tastebuds with delicate grassy and floral notes.

In Malaysia and Singapore, cooks tend to use the pandan leaf to flavour cakes, pancakes and desserts as well as to aromatise rice.

The leaves, tied in a knot, can also be added to soups and curries.

In Sri Lanka, the leaves add its flavour to curry powder while in Thailand, the leaves are used to wrap food.

Pandan-wrapped chicken is a famous Thai dish that uses the leaves to hold cubes of marinated chicken before the parcels are deep-fried and they are also used to make little square containers for the dessert (tako).

Kewra essence is a flavouring of the Moghul emperors of India and is extracted from P.tectorius flowers. It is used to flavour pilaf, meat dishes, sweets and kulfi.

Source:, Herb & Spice (Jill Norman)

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