Kewra: All You Need To Know About This Edible Aromatic & Its Use
Image Credit: IFF India

Kewra water – the essence extracted from kewra flowers is highly valued for its sweet, floral and slightly woody fragrance. Commonly used in Indian, Pakistani and Bengali cuisine, to flavour desserts and biryani, the kewra essence adds a unique and pleasant floral aroma to these dishes. The extract is also used liberally in the production of ittar – traditional Indian scents as well as scented oils, traditional medicine and aromatherapy, for its purported relaxative properties.

Made by distilling the fragrant flowers of the Pandanus tectorius plant, fresh kewra flowers are harvested in the early hours of the day, when their aroma is said to be most potent. Once harvested, the flowers are cleaned using a gentle rinse of water and placed in a large container filled with more water. The container is then heated, after which the mixture is subjected to a distillation process, where the moisture is collected and stored in an air-tight container to preserve its fragrance. Kewra essence is often added to enhance the rice-like aromas of biryani and pulao dishes. Typically, a few drops of kewra water are sprinkled over the cooked rice just before serving, since it imparts a sweet floral note.


Image Credits: Food Thesis

Also a popular ingredient in Indian desserts and sweets like kheer, shahi tukda and other milk-based sweets, the essence also is used widely in the preparation of beverages like sherbets as well as syrups that can be diluted with water or soda. Traditional recipes in parts of India also use the essence to add some depth to the chashni or sugar syrup used for sweets like imarti or gulab jamun. Traditional cooking techniques suggest using the essence as a finishing ingredient in savoury as well as sweet dishes, as applying direct heat to a recipe containing kewra extract might lead to an unpleasant bitter taste.

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This pandan leaf extract is also widely used amongst Malaysian and Thai cuisines for its ability to enhance the appeal of desserts like tab tim krob (water chestnuts with condensed milk), shaved ice, jellies and the famous kaya jam. The usage of this essence also came about during a time when South Asian and Southeast Asian cultures weren’t familiar with another popular flavouring agent – vanilla extract. Hence, most sweet dishes that are rooted in these cultures have a signature aroma and flavour to them which is a result of the kewra essence.