Can Pandan Help Fight Diabetes? Here Are 8 Surprising Health Benefits Of The Humble Leaf

Sometimes called the “vanilla of the East” due to its distinct sweet flavour, pandan is a mainstay in Asian kitchens from Singapore to India and Vietnam.

In 2017, UK domestic goddess Nigella Lawson even called pandan “the new matcha”, although we’ve already been savoring this fragrant green leaf for centuries. Today, some of the trendiest bars in New York, Paris, and London are serving pandan-flavored cocktails.

But how much do you really know about the humble leaf?

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For starters, did you know that there are around 750 species of the pandanus or pandan plant – also known as the screwpine? The plants are similar in appearance to palm trees with fan-shaped bunches of long, narrow blade-shaped leaves.

They’re most commonly found in tropical and subtropical countries such as India, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Thailand but some species of pandan can even be found in Australia.

While we nom on pandan chiffon cake, pandan is being researched and recognized worldwide for its potential medicinal and healing properties. The plant and its leaves contain phytochemicals – natural biologically active compounds that seem to have some wide-ranging health benefits.

Here are eight of them:

Relieve Arthritis Pain

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In India, the leaves are left to soak in coconut oil, and that oil is then rubbed on the body to relieve the pain of rheumatoid arthritis.

Maintain Oral Health

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Indian natural health practitioners also report chewing pandan leaves as an alternative to a trip to the dentist and to help maintain good oral health.

Treat Sunburn

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Skin feeling raw from a day out in the sun? Adding fresh pandan leaves to a cool bath is also used as a treatment for sunburn.

Slow Down Diseases

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Researchers at Malaysian universities have also praised pandan for its potential disease-fighting antioxidants. It contains polyphenols that have been associated with slowing the development of serious diseases, such as heart disease.

Researchers found freeze-dried powdered pandan leaf had higher levels of antioxidants than fresh pandan leaves.

Manage Diabetes

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Pandan may also offer some hope for the 400-million plus people worldwide living with diabetes. Researchers at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok say pandan leaves are used in traditional medicine to help manage diabetes.

In one study, participants drank pandan tea while another group of people drank hot water after a glucose tolerance test. The blood sugar levels of the two groups were compared and those who drank pandan tea saw a smaller spike in their blood sugar levels.

Researchers believe this is due to a natural compound in pandan called quercetin.

“The knowledge gained from this research can be used as a basis for a new drug discovery for the treatment of diabetes,” they add.

Defeat Dandruff

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If you’re looking for a natural solution to an itchy, dandruff-ridden scalp, try this pandan remedy. Blend 10 fresh leaves until you get a smooth consistency, then mix with 100 ml of water. Apply it directly onto your scalp, wrap it up and wait 30 minutes before rinsing out.

Detox Your Liver

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Pandan can help flush out toxins and other bad substances from your liver and body, as it’s a mild laxative.

Natural Air Freshener

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Knot the leaves together and slip them into your wardrobe or hang them in a room to enjoy the sweet smell.

So How Can You Use Pandan In Your Cooking?

The characteristic aroma of pandan leaves is due to a compound called 2-Acetyl-1pyrroline. On the plant, the leaves don’t have an aroma, but once picked and lightly crushed, they release the sought-after vanilla scent that is used in foods and perfumes.

In Singapore and other SEA countries, pandan leaf is often added to curries, rice, jams, and desserts. In India, pandan leaves are added to rice to create the flavour of basmati rice (basmati is more expensive so adding pandan to standard rice gives flavour on a budget).

Of course, as with everything, moderation is key.

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