Buko pandan is a sweet and refreshing Filipino dessert made of coconut, pandan-infused gelatine and sweetened cream. Comes together easily, served cold, perfect for special occasions or on a sweltering summer day.
(Can’t get enough of Filipino desserts? Check out this recipe for creamy leche flan. It comes out smooth, silky and bubble-free every time!)
Our No Bake Summer Series continues with buko pandan.
Buko (pronounced boo-koh) is young coconut meat, the same kind used for apple buko salad.
Pandan leaves (pronounced pan-dan) are common in Southeast Asian cuisine, mostly used to flavour desserts and drinks. It’s used so frequently that pandan has been called Southeast Asia’s vanilla.
Together, they make for a fantastic dessert (or salad or sweet treat) that Filipinos serve at special occasions. It’s simple, sweet and refreshing, which makes it perfect for summer too.
What is buko pandan?
Buko pandan is a popular dessert in the Philippines. It’s made of simple ingredients – buko, tapioca or gelatine or both, and sweetened cream.
The gelatine is cooked with pandan leaves, infusing it with pandan’s naturally sweet taste and subtle aroma.
What does it taste like?
Buko pandan (some people call it buko pandan salad) is usually served during Christmastime in the Philippines, though it’s not uncommon for folks to make and serve it throughout the year.
With its sweet and refreshing taste, it’s perfect for the hot and humid Philippine climate.
So what does it taste like? It’s sweet and served cold. And it tastes like pandan, which is flowery, fragrant, coconut-y, banana-y all at once.
It’s tropical and certainly very unique. And delicious!
You really have to taste it to understand. And once you do, you will always remember its distinct flavour. You can read more about pandan here.
How to make buko pandan salad
It’s so easy to make too (for the detailed recipe with specific measurements, scroll to the bottom for a printable recipe card).
- Boil pandan leaves in a pot of water until your kitchen smells amazing. Fish the pandan leaves out and add gelatine. Stir to dissolve and bring to a boil. Follow package instructions.
- Transfer the gelatine into a pan or baking dish and allow it to cool and set. When it’s ready, cut into cubes (about 1/2 to 1-inch cubes).
- Then just combine everything in a bowl: shredded young coconut meat, tapioca (I use cooked tapioca), sweetened condensed milk, table cream (see notes on this in the next section), and your gelatine cubes.
- Chill before serving. Top with ice cream if you’re feeling fancy!
Ingredients of buko pandan dessert
You can buy all the ingredients for buko pandan in a Filipino or Chinese grocery store, or in the international aisle of your local supermarket.
- Pandan leaves – if you can’t find fresh ones, they are also available frozen. You just need to thaw and wash thoroughly before using.
- Shredded young coconut – these are typically frozen too and you’d need to thaw, wash and drain. When buying these frozen, the weight printed on the package won’t be the actual amount of coconut meat you’re going to get in the end. So it’s best to buy extra.
- Unflavoured gelatine (or gulaman) – I usually buy green gelatine (see the recipe for the actual brand I use) because buko pandan dessert is traditionally green but you can buy whatever colour you like.
- Tapioca pearls – I use prepared tapioca pearls that you can buy in bottles (again, please scroll to the recipe below). I just make sure to drain the syrup thoroughly.
- Sweetened condensed milk
- Table cream – in the Philippines, buko pandan is usually made with Nestle all-purpose cream, which is thick, creamy and already sweetened. I haven’t been able to find it here in Canada though. The closest substitute I’ve found is table cream. It’s not as creamy but combined with condensed milk, it tastes just as delicious.
Common questions about buko pandan recipe
This buko pandan recipe is a super simple dessert recipe and to make sure it goes perfectly each time, here are some things to remember.
Can I use pandan extract instead of pandan leaves?
If you can’t find pandan leaves, you can use pandan extract or flavouring instead. Just a few drops in the water you’re using to make the gelatine should do the trick.
Also, you can use a combination of pandan leaves and pandan flavouring for a stronger pandan flavour. Just taste and adjust as you go.
Can I make buko pandan in advance?
It is ideal to make buko pandan a day ahead to allow the flavours to come together and the dessert to chill.
We usually keep it in the fridge overnight and serve it the next day. I would personally not keep it longer than 2-3 days though; with milk, cream and coconut as ingredients, it may go bad after that.
Can I freeze buko pandan?
Freezing may be a better option if you plan on making buko pandan way ahead of when you’re planning to serve it.
You can serve it frozen like ice cream or thaw it for a few minutes on the counter to get the creamy consistency back.
Just be aware of two things:
- Ice will form, which would lead to a more watery dessert when thawed
- Tapioca pearls become rock hard when frozen and even when thawed, they tend to lose their chewiness
Filipino recipes perfect for summer
It’s summer in the Philippines all year long so it’s no surprise that Filipino cuisine is packed with desserts to help you stay cool in the heat.
Start with rich and creamy homemade ube ice cream. Nothing beats a scoop (maybe 2) of ube ice cream on a 40C day.
If popsicles are your thing, make a batch of these delicious ice buko or coconut popsicles. You won’t be able to stop at just one.
Want refreshing cookies? We have that too! Silvanas (or sylvanas) are meringue cookies sandwiched and filled with French buttercream and yes, they are served and eaten cold.
Craving for cake but don’t want to turn that oven on? Make this strawberry refrigerator cake – icebox cake filled with fresh strawberries and sweet cream.
Buko Pandan Recipe - Refreshing Filipino Dessert
- bunch pandan leaves or pandan extract, see notes
- 3 cups water
- 3 oz unflavoured gelatine see notes
- 1/2 cup condensed milk adjust to taste
- 1/2 cup table cream adjust to taste
- 12 oz shredded young coconut meat see notes
- 12 oz cooked tapioca pearls in syrup drained, see notes
- Add pandan leaves to a pot filled with 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
- Remove the pandan leaves then add the gelatine. Stir to dissolve and bring the mixture to a boil again. Follow package instructions.
- Pour gelatine into an 8x8 baking pan or dish and allow to cool and set. When ready, cut into 1/2-1 inch cubes.
- In a small bowl, stir condensed milk and table cream until combined.
- In a larger bowl, add the rest of the ingredients: shredded coconut, tapioca pearls and your cubed gelatine. Pour half of your milk mixture and stir. At this point, you'll want to taste your buko pandan to see how much more milk and cream you want to add. Add in small increments until you get the sweetness and consistency you desire.
- Chill at least an hour before serving (see notes). Optional: top with ice cream!
- If you can’t find fresh pandan leaves, you can use frozen. You just need to thaw and wash thoroughly before using. Also, you can opt to use pandan extract. Just add a few drops to the water you're using to make gelatine. Adjust to taste. You can use both leaves and extract as well, for a stronger pandan flavour.
- I usually buy green gelatine (like the one below) because buko pandan dessert is traditionally green but you can buy whatever colour and brand you like.
- Coconut meat is sold typically frozen too so you’d need to thaw, wash and drain. When buying these, note that the weight printed on the package won’t be the actual amount of coconut meat you’re going to get in the end. So it’s best to buy extra.
- You can certainly cook your own tapioca but I always buy prepared ones sold in bottles (like below). I just make sure to drain the syrup thoroughly.
- Buko pandan will be ready to eat once it's cold, so an hour in the fridge should be fine. However, we prefer to chill it overnight. I guess it depends on how much time you have in advance to prepare it.
Did you make buko pandan? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.