With a nickname of ‘stink bean’ the petai bean (parkia speciosa) is obviously going to hum a bit. Some say it has the smell of burning rubber and others compare the unpleasant odour to methane or sulphur.
All over South East Asia, where it can be referred to as peteh, sataw or sator, this smelly little bean grows wild. The flowers of the tree hang down looking like light bulbs on stems and the nectar from the flowers attracts bats and other insects which pollinate them. These turn into long twisted pods growing in clusters of seven or eight; eventually these pods fatten up and inside there are bright green petai beans about the size of a fava bean. The tree itself grows up to 27m or 90ft which makes it rather hairy work for the pickers shinning up and down.
The petai aficionado is definitely the kind of guy that you want to avoid. After dining on petai, the smell of the bean pervades your person, rather like garlic does, only much worse. As like many beans, they are prone to cause a spot of flatulence but with a nasty addition of petai pong. And it doesn’t stop there either, as the body processes the bean all visits to the bathroom for the next couple of days are going to be pretty unpleasant occasions.
Opening up the pod releases that love it or hate it aroma. The beans are best cut in half to check for worms which burrow inside every so often. They are then simply boiled and eaten with salt by some Indonesians or dipped in sambal. Strong flavours are used in many recipes to counter there nutty bitterness and smell for example garlic, chillies or dried shrimp. Young pods can be used whole and added to stir fries; the beans are often served as petai fried rice (or nasi goreng petai). Sambal udang petai is another popular spicy dish made with prawns, loads of chillis and garlic. They are also used in Thai style curries with fish sauce and lemongrass. As there doesn't appear to be any western chefs creatively using petai beans on their menus at the moment perhaps we could substitute them in our own familiar dishes, switch them in chili, Boston baked petai beans maybe. How about making a veggy casserole dish or a cassoulet way more interesting. Refried petai beans any one?
They are said to be very good for us as well, used to treat depression, anaemia and lower blood pressure. The Malaysians rub insect bites with the inside of the petai pod to stop the itching. Even The New England Journal of Medicine included a paper on by incorporating petai beans regularly into your diet you could cut your chances of having a stroke by 40%.
So let’s dash off down the local oriental store and source out these beans. Just remember to go via the hardware store first for a new supply of clothes pins!