A Taste of Pandan

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I’ve read in a few places that Pandan is to Asia what Vanilla is to the Western world. Since I’ve never worked with Pandan in the kitchen before, I was a bit confused by this analogy and assumed that there was a less-than-mediocre, one-hit-wonder, wannabe rap artist by the name of "Pandan Ice" running around Asia.

Shay with a gauge and Pandan with a nine.

Turns out I was wrong. Which is a good thing. One Vanilla Ice is more than the world can stand.

Anyhoo, the Pandan/Vanilla comparison actually pertains to the wide use of Pandan in a variety of Southeast Asian dishes. Like vanilla pods, the long green leaves of the Pandan (AKA Screwpine) plant are very fragrant and aromatic. Also similar to vanilla, the unique aroma of pandan leaves is used to flavor many sweets. In the Philippines for example, Pandan is usually paired with coconut in desserts like Buko Pandan salad–a sweet mixture of pandan-perfumed milk, gelatin, and coconut.

However, it should also be noted that Pandan tastes nothing like vanilla. Some say that the aroma and flavor of Pandan is similar to that of coconuts–which is strange considering that the two ingredients are usually paired together. To me though, the flavor of Pandan is wholly unique but tastes kinda banana leafy, sorta grassy, a little bit nutty, and a lot like Jasmine rice–all at the same time. Despite my best efforts at pinning down a flavor description, the taste of Pandan is almost indescribable.

But don’t let Pandan’s uniqueness discourage you from using it your cooking. Even though it tastes and smells nothing like vanilla, I used some Pandan leaves in much the same way I would use vanilla pods. I steeped the leaves in some warm milk and cream to extract the wonderful Pandan fragrance and flavor–instead of plain ol’ vanilla ice cream, I made Pandan ice cream.

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To make my Pandan Ice Cream, I just followed David Lebovitz’ Vanilla Ice Cream recipe and simply replaced vanilla with Pandan leaves. I took three pandan leaves and tied each leaf into a knot, and then threw the leaves into a pot of warm milk, cream, and sugar and let everything steep for half an hour.  Tying the Pandan leaves into knots makes them easier to fish out of the liquid later–otherwise they’d just lay flat against the bottom of the pan.

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Knotty By Nature

After churning the ice cream, I sprinkled some Pinipig on the finished dish for some added texture and crunch.  Pinipig is a Filipino ingredient that is also used in many desserts. Pinipig look a lot like Rice Krispies, except Pinipig are actually made from rice–glutinous rice that is pounded and sometimes toasted.

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I actually first intended to make a Pandan/Pinipig Ice cream with the Pinipig mixed into the ice cream rather than just sprinkled on top.  But this was a big mistake.  When mixed into the ice cream, the Pinipig lost all of its crunch and actually became quite chewy after a day in the freezer. So it’s best to just save the Pinipig for sprinklin’ rather than mixin’.

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The finished Pandan ice cream was nicely perfumed with the scent of Pandan leaf, but the taste wasn’t too overpowering.  And because Pandan is the only flavoring in this dish, it’s easier to concentrate on its mysterious essence and to try and figure out exactly what it tastes like.

The Pandan Ice Cream recipe I provide below is fairly straightforward, but I do have some other Pandan experiments in the pipe, so stay tuned for those true believers! In the meantime, you should be down with O.P.P.:

*****

O.P.P. (Other People’s Pandan):

*****

Pandan Ice Cream
Makes about 1 Quart

1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
3 Pandan leaves, each tied into a knot (Pandan leaves can be found frozen at Asian markets)
6 large egg yolks

Combine the milk, heavy cream, sugar, salt, and pandan leaves in a medium
saucepan.  Heat the cream mixture over medium heat until it just begins to simmer, then
cover and remove from heat.  Allow the mixture to steep at room temperature for 30 minutes.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks until they lighten in color.
Temper the eggs by slowly adding the warm cream
mixture to the eggs, one ladle at a time, and whisking continuously.  When about a third of the
cream mixture has been added to the eggs, pour the warmed egg mixture
back into the
saucepan with the rest of the cream.  Continue to cook and whisk over
medium-high heat until the
mixture reaches 170 degrees Fahrenheit on an instant-read thermometer.
If you don’t have an instant-read thermometer, cook the mixture until
it thickens slightly and coats the back of a spoon. (You can test for
doneness by running your finger across the coated spoon. If your finger
leaves a trail on the spoon, then the custard is done. If the
trail flows back together, continue to cook the custard until it
thickens some more.)

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Pour the warmed custard into a large bowl through a fine mesh sieve (this strains out any cooked and scrambled eggy bits). Retrieve the pandan leaves from the sieve and place back into the custard. Place the bowl of custard into an ice bath and stir the custard until cool. When the custard is cool, cover and place in the refrigerator overnight to thoroughly chill.

The next day, remove and discard the pandan leaves from the custard. Pour the cold custard mixture into an ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Sprinkle individual servings with pinipig if desired.

  • dp April 23, 2008, 8:09 pm

    Thais use pandan with coconut quite often in desserts as well. It’s got a wonderful flavor.
    This ice cream is definitely going on my list!

    Reply
  • Wandering Chopsticks April 23, 2008, 10:29 pm

    I made ice cream yesterday too. No ice cream maker though. Or rather, my freezer is too full to fit. So I just kept mashing it by hand the old-fashioned way.
    You can also use pandan to flavor desserts. VNese do that a lot. And to scent sweetened tofu.

    Reply
  • Julie April 24, 2008, 12:18 am

    I don’t think I’ve ever had pandan, but your description of it (like banana, though some say coconut) sounds really appealing, especially as it starts to get hot!
    Man, I really want an ice cream maker.

    Reply
  • bryan April 24, 2008, 12:25 am

    Done in a wrong way, pandan smells like chlorox or *bleeeep* (body secretion which smells like such). Maybe it’s just me but I’m picky with my pandan. I smell the white tips first and if they smell like *bleeeep* I don’t buy it.
    Steep it with tea. Or scrunch and put inside chicken for lechong manok ala Baliwag. Use pandan water (or extract) as base for pandan crepes or pancakes too.

    Reply
  • Mila April 24, 2008, 1:56 am

    Reading your post, I kept thinking of ways to describe pandan, but other than “it goes with coconut, rice, and tea” I couldn’t really figure out a description for it. Floral, but earthy. Not herby, not spicy. Oh well, it makes rice smell glorious and a few springs in a roasted chicken makes a big diff.

    Reply
  • manggy April 24, 2008, 3:25 am

    Hey, have you had a pinipig crunch? It’s a vanilla/chocolate ice cream pop coated with chocolate and pinipig. Yum!
    Great lookin’ ice cream :) Pandan is ok in my book (unlike its common partner, coconut :p)

    Reply
  • Babette April 24, 2008, 4:00 am

    It’s weird but somehow I was expecting ‘green’ colored ice cream. LOL It just proves that mass-manufactured food with Pandan as one of the main ingredients have tons of green food coloring. I tried making Puto Pandan using Pandan extract. The pandan taste was so strong my kids didn’t like it. :( I’ll have to use Pandan leaves next time. Thanks for the free plug. :)

    Reply
  • veron April 24, 2008, 6:00 am

    Love pandan anything. Would love to make a pandan macaron! Your pandan looks so fresh, I think I can only get mine in the freezer section at the Asian store :(.

    Reply
  • veron April 24, 2008, 6:01 am

    ooh…and I’m drooling over that ice cream , by the way…:)

    Reply
  • brilynn April 24, 2008, 8:33 am

    I’ve never seen pandan leaves here, other cakes flavoured with pandan but I’ve never tried those either… I need to fix that.

    Reply
  • Burnt Lumpia April 24, 2008, 9:12 am

    Hi dp! I guess the pandan/coconut combo goes beyond the Philippines too. They do taste great together, though I don’t think they taste alike.
    Hi Dub C! I can only imagine the goodies you have filling your freezer;) What kind of ice cream did you make?
    It most be getting close to downright hellish in AZ right around now right Julie? And if you get an ice cream maker, I recommend Krups.
    That’s a great tip about smelling the white tips, Bryan. Thanks for that. Pandan crepes and pancakes also sound amazing!
    It’s a tough one isn’t it, Mila? Pandan flavor is definitely unique.
    I’ve never had pinipig crunch, but I have heard of it before Manggy. It sounds a lot like the Nestle Crunch ice cream bars we have here, except our “crunchies” are probably made from a processed, mass-produced, rice-like substance, rather than real rice like pinipig;)
    Thanks Babette. Oggi, one of the others I linked to, also has a recipe for puto pandan, so you could check that out too.
    If anyone can pull off a pandan macaron, it’s you veron! I’d love to see how you’d do that.
    Hello brilynn! You should definitely give those pandan cakes a try and see how you like the flavor.

    Reply
  • Ruy April 24, 2008, 10:35 am

    I don’t have much experience using pandan but I never thought three leaves could go such a long way! I like the fact that your ice cream isn’t green and totally focuses on the pandan flavor.

    Reply
  • Matt Hurst April 24, 2008, 11:30 am

    Just as long as you don’t kill my brain like a poisonous mushroom you should “flow like a harpoon daily and nightly.”
    But, you must ask yourself: “Will it ever stop?”
    And to that you must say “I don’t know. Turn off the lights and I’ll glow.”
    As for pandan, “to the extreme, it rocks a mic like a vandal, light up the stage and it will wax a chump like a candle.”

    Reply
  • oggi April 24, 2008, 1:58 pm

    Yay, you finally found pandan leaves. The last time I made pandan ice cream (combined with buco) was almost two years ago. I don’t know why but the combination of young coconut and pandan makes sweets and cakes special.
    The crunchy pinipig topping sounds really wonderful..I must make plain pandan ice cream soon.:)

    Reply
  • elmomonster April 25, 2008, 11:42 am

    I can’t get enough pandan…it’s also prevalent in Indonesian cuisine, and anything touched by it is lifted into a higher plane of existence. Truly a wonder leaf.

    Reply
  • B April 25, 2008, 8:31 pm

    I use pandan to substitute for vanilla all the time! We have pandan gone wild in the garden, and it goes into rice, iced tea, kalamansi juice, sometimes even in my coffee. To mellow out harsh flavors, to reduce the cloying in sweet.
    My “yaya” taught me a trick to extract max flavor: use a fork to pierce a leave, pull through so it is divided into multiple strands. Tie it then.

    Reply
  • desie the maybahay April 27, 2008, 4:04 am

    hmm, pandan, i can almost smell it now. great idea to flavour ice cream with with.
    (i am still humming ‘ice ice baby’ in my head-thanks a lot…)

    Reply
  • White On Rice Couple April 27, 2008, 5:59 pm

    This is my first exposure to pandan ice cream. I love it! I can already imagine the beautiful flavors in this ice cream.
    I’m really loving your photographs more and more, especially of the tied pandan leaves!

    Reply
  • Pamela April 28, 2008, 5:30 pm

    I volunteer that we don’t compare Pandan to anything and say that the flavor of Pandan is… pandan. ^_^

    Reply
  • joey April 29, 2008, 1:51 am

    This sounds delicious! Can’t wait to see your other pandan experiments :) Reminds me that I better go out and buy some!
    Btw, I love your rap/HH references and how you sneak them up on us! :) “Shay with a gauge and Pandan with a nine”…I was rolling on the floor!

    Reply
  • joey April 29, 2008, 1:55 am

    This reminds me…in some places here they flavor the water with pandan (much like some restaurants flavor their water with lemon slices)…a foreigner friend handed me a glass and said, “You have to try this! It tastes like popcorn!” :)
    I guess pandan tastes like different things to different people :)

    Reply
  • Pat April 29, 2008, 3:17 pm

    ooh I LOVE pandan–in syrup, cakes, sweets, etc etc. My mum steeps it with sugar and water, adds a drop or two of red food coloring and stirs the resulting syrup into water. Over ice, this drink was my dad’s after-work drink every evening when I was growing up.

    Reply
  • sara April 29, 2008, 4:04 pm

    i told my lola that i’d found a recipe for pandan ice cream. she just looked at me like i smelled gross, lol. she’s old school. looks delectable though! i’ll need to try this when i get home.

    Reply
  • Cynthia April 29, 2008, 7:58 pm

    One day I hope to put my hands on some pandan, in the mean time, I’ll just be content to enjoy it through your blog.

    Reply
  • gemma April 30, 2008, 4:21 pm

    if you’ve got rice as a staple, i highly recommend steaming rice with one pandan leaf. this is a traditional method in the old country.

    Reply
  • Erin May 2, 2008, 7:57 am

    The ice cream looks wonderful and I love the idea of using pinipig as a topping.
    Great post, this is fast becoming one of my favorite blogs.

    Reply
  • Burnt Lumpia May 2, 2008, 11:31 am

    Thanks Ruy. The leaves are very fragrant and long, so yes, 3 does the trick. I guess you could add more if you want more flavor.
    Very nice, Hurst.
    Hi oggi. Your own pandan recipes all looked very tasty too.
    Nicely said, elmo.
    Excellent tip, B! Thanks for that. I now always shred my pandan leaf with a fork.
    Sorry, desie! It’s probably one of the worst songs to have stuck in your head! ;P
    Thank you very much WORC. I’m glad you are liking my pics.
    You are right, Pamela! Pandan tastes like pandan!
    Thanks, joey! I’ve never heard the popcorn comparison before, that’s a weird one!
    Thanks, Pat. I’ve been experimenting with your pandan syrup and hopefully I will be able to post something about it.
    Hi sara! Your lola would probably look at me even worse!
    Thanks Cynthia!
    Yes, gemma, I’ve seen the rice and pandan trick and I will try that soon.
    Thanks very much Erin! I’m glad you are enjoying my blog.

    Reply
  • Lynette May 25, 2008, 7:03 pm

    Hi Marvin, I agree! The pandan taste and aroma is indescribeable. In Malaysia nasi lemak (rice cooked in coconut milk) is never complete without one or two pandan leaves. I so, so miss it. Very difficult to get where I live. Only frozen ones and they are totally not the same thing.
    Oh also there’s a great Thai dish, chicken wrapped in pandan oh so heavenly. Yes, in my mind pandan is to Asia what vanilla is to the West. Pandan beats vanilla hands down every time, any time.

    Reply
  • hazel June 11, 2008, 9:44 am

    wow. this is making my mouth water :)

    Reply
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  • A Moore March 6, 2017, 8:31 pm

    I also make pandan ice cream and use David Leibovitz’s vanilla ice cream as a base. But I don’t knot the leaves I chop, blend and extract the juice with cheesecloth and use about four tablespoons. Is there some advantages to knowing the leaves vs. the juice?

    Reply

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