Floral, nutty and aromatic, pandan often finds itself in tropical drinks like swizzles or Jungle Birds. But just like coconut, whose flavor it sometimes recalls, the Southeast Asian herb can figure into drinks of any style.
Given pandan’s complex flavor profile, it’s comparatively simple to incorporate its distinctive notes into a cocktail. Pandan syrup is all you need. There are two easy ways to make it: Steep pandan leaves in a simple syrup, as Napier Bulanan does in her Old-Fashioned riff, Sige Na, or combine simple syrup and the leaves in a blender, then strain the mixture, as French bartender Nico de Soto does for his Pandan-quiri, a straightforward riff on the rum classic that benefits from pandan’s nuanced profile.
Outside of an Old-Fashioned and a Daiquiri, though, using this easy syrup is one of the most versatile ways to bring a verdant punch to a range of recipes. In a Negroni, it recalls the aperitiki canon, an easy-drinking mashup of Italian and tropical flavors; it also shines in dessert-like drinks thanks to its confectionery notes, as well as in long, crushable cocktails owing to its herbaceous qualities.
The versatile sweetener is also customizable based on personal taste. Using dried herbs versus fresh, for instance, can yield a syrup with a more pronounced flavor. And in place of the herb, which can often be found dried or frozen at Asian grocery stores, pandan extract can be swapped in or used to amplify an already infused batch. It’s a forgiving format, one that’s worth experimenting with, especially because, as de Soto says, “it is one of the most complex flavors you can have... There’s no ingredient in the world that has that nutty flavor, those layers, that complexity.”