What's This? Pandanus!
Pandanus, also known as "screw pine" is seen everywhere in the Marshall Islands, second only to coconut trees. It grows in the tropical coastal regions mostly in the Pacific. In South East Asian countries like Thailand and the Philippines, locals use Pandanus leaves for cooking. Their leaves have an herbal/floral like aroma and they are used to wrap rice, meat or fish to cook them. They also make a juice extract (pandan paste) from the leaves to use for cooking.
Here in the Marshall Islands, people mostly consume the fruit of the Pandanus consisting of segments called cones or keys. Each fruit may have over a hundred of these keys, and Marshalles simply suck the inner part of the key (yellow part) to enjoy a dash of sweet juice. The juice tastes like a mixture of sugar cane and mango (to me) and the texture is like thick nectar.
I purchased a whole pandanus fruit (which weighed about 30 pounds!) from a street vendor for $4.50. The lady at the stand who helped me carry the pandanus to my car told me to use a hammer to remove the first one or two keys and then it would be easy to remove the others.
After removing the keys, I washed them very well and cut off the outer part of the keys (green). After a few tries, I found that it is impossible to cut off near the green part. You need to cut where the dark yellow blends into the light yellow part which is much softer. I also recommend to use a serrated knife. At this point, you can just put it in your mouth to chew and suck the juice out of it just like locals do. But my goal was to extract a whole bunch of juice to develop some new pandanus recipes.
After I tried several tools like a grinder and a motor and pestle, I decided to use a food processor to do job. I cut the yellow part of the keys into small pieces and processed them until well grinded. And then I put them into a cheese cloth to extract the juice.
I was told that I can extract the juice from the raw or cooked (boiled or baked) keys. I tried the cooked ones (I baked in the oven until they were soft) but the juice became too thick and slimy. I recommend to use the raw keys for this method.
After extracting juice from about 40 keys, I managed to get about 3 cups of pandanus juice. I have about 70 more keys left!