A simple 2 minute recipe for pandan extract made with fresh pandan leaves. Learn how to make your own extract, perfect for many Asian desserts, cakes, drinks and smoothies.
Beloved all across Asia, pandan extract is used to make a wide range of dessert recipes and sweet treats. From pandan chiffon cake, to pandan waffles, pandan ice cream, steamed buns or jelly, pandan essence is an absolute for a unique flavour.
This recipe takes only 2 minutes to make and stores very well, so you can have pandan flavouring handy when needed. All you need is fresh (or frozen) pandan leaves and water. The recipe below includes a standard extract and a concentrated version, great for a stronger flavour.
You can use this pandan extract like you would any other type of extract or essence. Add it to Wintermelon Milk Tea for a Vietnamese twist, use it as natural colouring for Sweet Taro Buns or add to sugar glaze for Mochi Donuts.
What is it made of?
Pandan extract is made of two simple ingredients: pandan leaves (fresh or frozen) and water. The ingredients are blitzed into a smooth paste using a blender, then the pulp is discarded. The remaining juice is pandan extract. Yep, it’s that easy!
Homemade pandan essence (or extract) has a naturally green color and can also be used as food colouring – without any nasty chemicals. Its main use, however, is as a sweet flavouring for desserts.
What are pandan leaves?
Pandan leaf comes from a tropical plant known as pandan plant or screwpine. Its scientific name is pandanus amaryllifolius. Its leaves have a strong, grassy aroma, making them ideal to be used as flavouring. Pandan grows across South and South East Asia, mostly in a warm tropical climate. It’s predominantly used in Indonesian, Filipino, Malaysian, Thai and Vietnamese cuisines.
Nowadays, pandan is starting to be introduced all over the world, not just in Southeast Asian cuisines. Pandan has a naturally vibrant dark green colour, and has long, narrow and shiny leaves. It has a strong scent like a mixture of concentrated vanilla and freshly mowed grass.
Most of the time pandan is used in extract form, which packs the flavour and colour, without the leafy pandan pulp. Although mostly used for sweet dishes, pandan can also be added in savory dishes. It can be used whole and added into coconut rice to give it a subtle flavour, like the popular Malaysian dish nasi lemak. They can also be used as a wrap for meat before grilling it, like pandan chicken.
Where to find pandan
Most South and Southeast Asian grocery stores will stock either fresh or frozen pandan leaves. Look for your local Thai, Filipino or Vietnamese supermarket – they’re guaranteed to stock some!
Chinese and Japanese shops are less likely to have fresh leaves, although they might have artificial pandan extract. Commercially made, it can taste chemical and contain preservatives. Seeing how easy it is to make, I recommend preparing the real deal instead.
If you’re having trouble finding fresh pandan, it also goes by these names:
- Screwpine (English name)
- Lá dứa or La dua (in Vietnamese shops)
- ใบเตย or Bi tey (in Thai shops)
- 香蘭 or Xianglan (in Chinese shops)
- Rampé (in Sri Lankan shops)
- পোলাও পাতা or Pulao pata (in Bangladeshi shops)
- Annapurna (in Indian shops)
When choosing fresh pandan leaves in Asian markets, make sure they have a dark green colour and look fresh. Do not pick ones that are too yellow or light green in colour, as they are not ripe enough. Similarly, don’t pick wilted leaves.
Fresh pandan leaves can be easily frozen and used at a later date. Just wrap them in some aluminium foil and store for up to 5-6 months. Thaw them for half an hour before use.
What does pandan taste like?
Pandan has a very sweet and grassy scent. It’s reminiscent of freshly mowed grass mixed in with concentrated vanilla flavour. To me it also smells a little like Basmati rice - tropical, floral and a little starchy.
The taste is very aromatic and a little goes a long way. It tasted just like its scent: floral, grassy, with hints of vanilla. Be careful when using pandan extract, as it can easily become overpowering if adding too much.
Due to its unique floral flavour, pandan pairs very well with:
- Brown sugar or palm sugar
How to use pandan extract
Homemade pandan extract can be used in many ways, exactly like how you would use vanilla extract. It can be added to cakes, desserts, drinks, smoothies and much more. Here are some of my favourite ways to use it:
- Pandan waffles – Are absolutely next level from regular waffles. Use my favourite Pandan waffle recipe to make soft, fluffy and chewy waffles with a delicious pandan flavour.
- Pandan chiffon cake – Is one of the most popular types of cakes in Southeast Asia. Not only does it taste amazing, but it’s also a natural and vibrant green colour.
- Pandan juice – Make your own pandan juice by diluting the extract into a cup of water, coconut milk or coconut water for a refreshing drink. Optionally add 1 teaspoon of honey for sweetness.
- Pandan smoothie – Add 1 teaspoon of extract into your favourite green or fruity smoothie.
- Pandan ice cream – Add it into your favourite ice cream recipe for a refreshing and tropical treat.
- Pandan milk bread – Make your favourite milk bread recipe even more amazing by adding a little pandan essence into the dough.
- Pandan Wintermelon Tea – A Vietnamese delicacy, wintermelon tea is often mixed with pandan for a unique flavour. You can add it into my Wintermelon Milk Tea recipe (milk entirely optional).
- Sticky rice – Add a hint of pandan into your favourite sticky rice recipe, then top with some mango for a refreshing treat.
- Pandan jelly - Commonly added to very popular jelly dishes such as buko pandan.
Apart from its culinary uses, you can use homemade pandan extract for household purposes:
- Natural bug repellent – Dilute it with a little water and sprinkle outside windows to keep bugs away.
- Air freshener – Add a little extract into a small jar to freshen up your house and give it a unique smell. You can also hang up pandan leaves for extra freshness.
Pro tip: These uses are appropriate for fresh pandan essence, not store bought. Commercial extracts contain mostly artificial flavors, not real pandan.
The best part about this recipe is how incredibly easy it is to make. All you need is a blender or food processor and two ingredients.
- Pandan leaves – can be either fresh or frozen. Let frozen leaves thaw for 20-30 minutes before using. See section above on how to choose the best pandan leaves and where to find them.
- Water – use filtered water if possible.
How to make pandan extract at home
- Thoroughly wash pandan leaves. Cut into small pieces, then add into a blender jug with water.
- Pulse until the leaves are fully pulverised. Use a fine sieve or cheese cloth to remove all pulp and reserve only the liquid.
And that’s it. It really is that simple to make pandan essence. The essence is ready to use immediately or stored in the fridge for later use.
You can make the extract more concentrated for a stronger flavour and more vibrant colour. Here’s how to make this recipe extra concentrated:
- Place the freshly blended and sifted liquid into an airtight jar. Let it sit in the fridge for at least 24-48 hours undisturbed.
- A green layer will form at the bottom – this is the concentrated extract. Drain out the light green liquid on top and reserve the concentrate.
Pro tip: don’t discard the excess liquid, add it to your tea or smoothies for a floral flavour.
How to store
You can keep pandan extract in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Although it can technically be stored even longer, the pandan flavor will not be as fresh anymore.
For longer term storage, I recommend freezing fresh pandan leaves. Place the whole pandan leaves (or chopped) in a ziplock bag or wrap in aluminium foil, then freeze for up to 5-6 months. Thaw for 20-30 minutes before preparing this recipe.
Frequently asked questions
Pandan can be substituted with vanilla extract. To replace the natural green colour, you can use green food colouring.
No, they are different. Pandan essence is liquid, whereas pandan paste is sticky and viscous, a little like honey. Store bough pandan paste is more concentrated than extract and has more green food colouring.
Pandan tastes different from matcha. Pandan is floral and sweet like vanilla, whereas matcha is more bitter and grassy. Matcha typically needs sweetening, whereas pandan is a little sweet on its own.
Concentrated pandan extract can taste bitter. Either add less of it or dilute it with more water.
No, pandan essence is entirely caffeine free.
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How to make Pandan Extract
- blender or food processor
- fine sieve or cheese cloth
- 10 pandan leaves, fresh or frozen (thaw frozen leaves)
- ½ cup water
Regular pandan extract
- Wash pandan leaves well to remove all dirt, then cut them into small 1-inch pieces.
- In a blender jug place the pandan pieces and water. Pulse well until the leaves are fully pulverised.
- Use a fine sieve or a cheese cloth to remove the pandan pulp and squeeze out all the juice.
- Use immediately or store in the fridge.
Concentrated pandan extract
- Store the freshly made pandan extract in an airtight jar for 24-48 hours undisturbed. The concentrated extract will fall to the bottom in a dark green layer.
- Remove the excess transparent liquid and use for tea or juice. The remaining dark green juice is the concentrated extract.
- This recipe produces ½ cup regular pandan extract or 1 tablespoon of concentrated pandan extract.
- Thoroughly wash pandan leaves before use to remove all debris and dirt.
- Store pandan extract in the fridge for maximum 3 days.
- Remaining pandan leaves can be frozen and used later.