Pandan leaves are medium to large in size and are elongated, narrow, and oblong in shape. There are two distinct pandanus shapes. If the plant is left undisturbed and the leaves are not harvested, it will develop into a small tree with large, long, and thin green leaves that can reach up to two meters in length. If the leaves are continuously harvested, the plant will stay low to the ground, forming a shrub-like appearance with smaller, narrower green leaves growing up to one meter in length. The upright green leaves taper to a point at the tip, and when attached to their stems, Pandan leaves resemble the top of a pineapple plant. Pandan leaves have a unique and distinct grassy aroma when first crushed that mellows out to a subtle, herbal, and floral aroma. When cooked, Pandan leaves have a nutty, almond, rose-like, and slightly sweet flavor.
Pandan leaves are best suited for cooked applications such as boiling, steaming, sautéing, and frying. They are used in both sweet and savory dishes and are boiled, pounded, bruised, or raked to bring out the flavor. Pandan leaves are often used to wrap meats or sticky rice and are cooked to add a sweet and nutty flavor. They are also wrapped and deep fried to create a crunchy exterior. In addition to savory preparations, pandan leaves are also used to make desserts and drinks. They can be made into a paste with the juice extracted to make the well-known chiffon cake, or they can be cooked to make Kaya, or pandan-flavored coconut egg jam, which is a traditional Pandan dish still found today in Malaysia and Singapore. Pandan leaves can also be cooked with coconut to make nasi lemak rice or are tied into knots and used for flavoring. Pandan leaves pair well with turmeric, lemongrass, brown sugar, milk, meats such as fish, chicken, beef, and pork, and rice. They will keep for a couple of days when stored unwashed, wrapped in a damp paper towel and sealed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Pandan leaves can also be frozen for up to two months.
Pandan leaves are available year-round.