Sunday, December 30, 2007

Pandanus Flower: Flavor for the New Year

Floral flavors have a tendency to jar unfamiliar palates, but for those who adore the voluptuous freshness that floral ingredients add to food, pandanus flower may prove a most enticing find.

Pandanus flower, also known as kewra, is the male flower of the pandanus plant (Pandanus odoratissimus). The distillate made from kewra petals offers an intriguing level of complexity not found in rose or orange blossom waters. Unlike the pandanus leaf (Pandanus amaryllifolius), a close relative with a lactonic, rice-like flavor, kewra bears the fragrant markings of rose, musk, sandalwood and champaca. Kewra water is commonly used in milk-based Indian sweets such as ras gulla, gulab majun, ras mala, and kheer as well as rice dishes like biryani.

New flavors are best experienced in simplicity. This provides psychological space for experimentation and lessens the discomfort one may occasionally anticipate when being introduced to a new flavor (this reaction is completely normal and deeply ingrained in our instinct for self-preservation and the avoidance of poisons).

In an effort to properly introduce pandanus flower to the taste buds I’ve developed a recipe for a warm breakfast cereal that balances kewra with familiar ingredients. Should kewra overwhelm your palate, you can decrease the amount of floral water or utilize recommended substitutions* as the cereal is highly nutritious and extremely beneficial for hair and skin in cold winter months. As an added benefit, the recipe is gluten-free.

The New Year provides many opportunities for growth and discovery. May your bounty include novel flavor experiences infused with inspiration and wonder.

Kewra Comfort
Recipe by Michelle Krell Kydd
(Serves 2)

· ¼ organic brown rice farina
· ¼ cup organic golden flaxseed meal
· ¼ cup organic almond meal
· 2 jumbo Medjool dates, chopped
· ⅛ tsp. ground cardamom
· 10 ounces of water
· ½ tsp. kewra water

· Mix dry ingredients together and add water. Stir thoroughly and allow to rest for three minutes.
· Chop Medjool dates and add to mixture.
· Add kewra water and stir.
· Microwave for four minutes.
· Remove from microwave and allow to rest for an additional three minutes.
· Mix warm cereal until the consistency is uniform throughout.
· Serve in two small serving bowls.

*To change the flavor of the cereal, eliminate cardamom and kewra and utilize one of the following three combinations of ingredients:
· ½ tsp. rosewater * ⅛ tsp. China cassia cinnamon * ½ tsp. Tahitian vanilla
· ½ tsp. orange blossom water * ½ tsp. cardamom
· ½ tsp. rosewater * ¼ tsp. almond extract * ⅛ tsp. cardamom * pinch of saffron

Ahmed® and Swad® brand kewra water are available in Indian grocery stores.

Screw pine, kewda, ketaki and keora are other names associated with the pandanus flower.

Vidyakara, an 11th century Buddhist monk, wrote a poem in which the pandanus flower appears. The bloom is called by its Sanskrit name—ketaki:

A cloth of darkness inlaid with fireflies;
flashes of lightning;
the mighty cloud mass guessed at from the roll of thunder;
a trumpeting of elephants;
an east wind scented by opening buds of ketaki,
and falling rain:
I know not how a man can bear the nights that hold all these,
when separated from his love.

The poem appears in Sanskrit Poetry from Vidyakara's Treasury, translated by Daniel H. H. Ingalls. It is available online at

Photo of kewda flower from Mumbai Magic.