Kewra (Pandan or Screw Pine Essence)
How do I even begin to describe this incredible extract? Heady. Floral. More of a scent than a flavor, disarming even…For me, the scent of kewra is indelible, reminding me of growing up, time spent with family and the amazing treat of drinking water or milk sweetened with rooh afza, a syrup infused with screw pine essence and rose. It brings a smile to my face, the pure definition of a taste memory.
Essences that are used in Asian and Middle Eastern cooking like orange blossom water or even rose flavoring are becoming more and more accessible, but this unique extract has yet to make the jump. Screw pine essence is also called kewra extract (a slightly milder version) or pandan extract and is distilled from the pandanus flowers. It’s used in Asian cooking in both sweet and savoury applications – drizzled over biryani, part of South Asian sweets, in Thai kaya (a coconut jam) or sweet rice.
Literally, a few drops over plain jasmine or basmati rice…it can transport a meal! It adds complexity and, again, it’s more of a scent, so it doesn’t interfere with all of the other spices. I LOVE it in desserts. It’s wonderful with cream or milk-based ones, but it’s also beautiful with fruit; I’ve been working on a lovely granita recipe as of late with seasonal rhubarb and kewra.
I advise looking for kewra or the transparent /light yellow liquid version of screw pine extract. It also comes in a green paste form, which I find to be a bit overpowering and which also colors your food green. You can pick screw pine up at most Asian grocers.