I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of pandan substitutes to find the best one for every cooking or baking occasion. Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry swap, or want a substitute that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
Pandan essence or paste is the best substitute for pandan leaves when it comes to flavor. To replicate the sweetness, vanilla or hazelnut extracts are good options. If you want a more botanical substitute, use kewra or rose extract. You can use banana leaves for wrapping.
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
I used different pandan substitutes to jazz up a tasty jelly recipe.
Pandan (also called screwpine) is a tropical plant commonly found in Southeast Asia. It’s primarily used for its leaves, which infuse food with a subtle sweet flavor and nutty, floral notes.
You can find pandan leaves in sweet or savory recipes and even in drinks. Its flavor is so unique that I had difficulty finding a perfect substitute. But I did find alternatives that work for specific uses. Here are the substitutes I tested and the verdicts:
|Substitutes||How to Substitute||Verdict|
|Pandan essence/paste||A few drops||10/10|
|Vanilla extract||A few drops||8/10|
|Jasmine tea + vanilla||Replace some of the liquid in your recipe with brewed Jasmine tea and ½ tsp of vanilla extract||7/10|
|Hazelnut extract||A few drops||7/10|
|Rose extract||1-2 drops||6/10|
|Kewra essence||A few drops||6/10|
|Banana leaves||For wrapping||10/10|
|Herbs||Bay leaves + basil or tarragon||5/10|
Psst… if you can’t find fresh pandan leaves, have a look in your local Asian supermarket for frozen leaves. You can use them in the same way.
Pandan paste, essence, or powder is the best substitute for fresh or frozen pandan leaves. They’ll bring the same sweet, floral flavor profile but in a different form.
Pandan paste has a more concentrated flavor than the essence because it’s boiled down longer. As for the essence, you have two major options – pure versions and artificially flavored ones.
The pure extract is undeniably superior with its authentic taste but pretty rare in Western markets. Most pandan essences on the market are artificial and tend to have a stronger green color than the natural version.
Powders are becoming more widely available too, and you can get either freeze-dried leaves that have been ground to a powder or evaporated pandan juice.
How to substitute: replace fresh or frozen pandan leaves with 1/4 tsp pandan paste or 1/2 tsp pandan extract.
One of the key flavor notes in pandan is vanilla, so it makes sense that you can use vanilla extract as a substitute. In fact, pandan leaves are sometimes referred to as “Asian vanilla”.
The flavor of vanilla is more warm and musky compared to pandan, which is fresher and grassier. But if you’re into baking, you probably already have some in your cupboards, and if you don’t, you’ll easily be able to find some at your local shop.
I highly recommend investing in a high-quality vanilla extract for best results. The market is flooded with imitation versions that fall short in flavor. And if you have access to fresh vanilla pods, even better! You can scrape out the fresh bean for a richer flavor.
If you think vanilla is too dull, follow Food 52’s suggestion and add a bit of freshly chopped ginger for a bit of zestiness.
How to substitute: replace pandan leaf with a few drops of vanilla extract.
Jasmine tea + vanilla
If you’re a tea connoisseur, you’re in luck. You can use jasmine tea if you can’t find fresh pandan leaves.
Jasmine tea has the same subtle yet refreshing flowery flavor, and adding a few drops of vanilla extract will bring a touch of sweetness. The final flavor didn’t replicate pandan’s taste to a tee (no pun intended), but my jelly was super delicious.
Because of the amount of jasmine tea you need to add, this replacement works best where the recipe has a decent amount of liquid in. Then you can replace some of the liquid with the tea.
Psst… if you’re not a fan of jasmine tea, try Rooibos tea instead.
How to substitute: replace some of the liquid in your recipe with brewed Jasmine tea and vanilla extract to taste.
Not a fan of Pandan’s floral notes?
Try hazelnut extract instead. Pandan has a distinct nuttiness to it that’s matched by the flavor of hazelnut extract, in fact, I’ve seen some people say they think pandan tastes more like hazelnut than it does vanilla.
Pro tip: you could even combine vanilla extract and hazelnut extract to get both flavor notes, and then add a pinch of matcha powder for a green color and a touch of bitterness.
How to substitute: replace pandan leaf with a few drops of hazelnut extract.
Rose extract, obtained by soaking rose petals in alcohol, is another decent pandan alternative in terms of adding a botanical touch to your recipes. But the flavor is quite different to pandan, with the floral notes being more prominent. And some people can find the flavor too ‘perfumy’, so proceed with caution.
I’d start with a small amount and then add more to taste.
Not sure what else to use rose extract for? It’s great in cocktails or mocktails, macarons, cookies, and any type of cake. You can also turn it into a ‘mist’ and spray it around your house.
How to substitute: replace pandan leaf with a drop or two of rose extract.
Kewra comes from the same plant as pandan, but again, don’t expect an exact flavor match! It’s extracted from the blossoms instead of the leaves, giving it a much more floral flavor and aroma compared to pandan’s sweet, nutty notes.
It’s actually more comparable to rose extract than pandan, but if all you want is something to brighten up your dish, it will work.
Pro tip: reemember to check the Walmart international aisle – that’s where I found mine.
How to substitute: replace pandan leaf with a few drops of kewra essence.
If your recipe calls for wrapping food in pandan leaves, try banana leaves instead. They don’t have the same floral-nutty flavor that pandan leaves do. But they bring a uniquely fragrant aroma all their own, making your dish incredibly enticing.
Plus, they’re sturdy and work brilliantly for both sweet and savory foods. Dried banana leaves are available in most Asian grocery stores and are sometimes also stocked in the frozen section.
Pro tip: Make sure to gently heat banana leaves over a flame or in the microwave before using them. This makes them more pliable and less likely to tear. Also, be sure to clean them well before use.
You can also use wax paper or parchment paper for wrapping in a pinch.
How to substitute: replace pandan leaves with banana leaves.
In a pinch, you can use a mixture of herbs to try and replicate the flavor of pandan.
One forum user said her husband, a trained chef, recommended a bay leaf with a little bit of dried basil or tarragon. This option works best in savory dishes like curries and rice. I wasn’t a fan of the herbs in my jelly, but I could see it working for some desserts (if you don’t have a super sweet tooth).
And go easy on the tarragon if you’re using it! It can quickly get overwhelming.
How to substitute: replace pandan leaves with a small amount of fresh herbs.
Substitutes to avoid
Not everything you see on the internet is true. Case in point – collard greens and matcha powder as substitutes for pandan.
Collard greens are a leafy green vegetable that has a bitter flavor and absolutely no sweetness or floral qualities! I’m not sure why they’re being suggested as a substitute for pandan leaves.
Likewise, matcha powder is also very bitter. It will color your dishes green but you’ll need to mix it with other sweeter extracts to counteract the bitter flavor
Best Pandan Substitutes + 2 To Avoid
- ½ tsp pandan paste or 1 tsp pandan essence
- a drop of kewra essence
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- replace liquid in your recipe with brewed Jasmine tea and ½tsp of vanilla extract
- ½ tsp rose extract
- ½ tsp hazelnut extract
- ¼ banana leaf
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen pandan substitutes at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.