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Petai- Stink bean that is food from the forest

Updated on November 26, 2012
A Petai tree with flowers.
A Petai tree with flowers.
Long-tailed macaque feasting on Petai.
Long-tailed macaque feasting on Petai. | Source

Petai, with a sciencetific name of Parka Speciosa, is a type of tree that is found throughout tropical Southeast Asia; in regions such as peninsula Malaysia, Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Thailand, Laos and Philippines.

It can be seen growing in land clearing near to villages and along the edge of secondary forest. Growth of the tree is encouraged by the local people in rural villages, who intentionally leave it standing after land clearing.

When a forest clearing appears due to fallen trees, the sun-loving tree is among the pioneer species to be established on the sun-lit forest floor. The hardy tree can thrive on poor soil on its own without the need to fertilize due to its ability of nitrogen fixing. The presence of rhizobium bacterium in its roots allow the plant to make use of nitrogen in the air as a fertilizer. Some trees may have buttress roots. The trunk of the tree appears straight with smooth bark that varies in color from light grey to brown or dark brown.

Seed from the tree has been harvested and eaten by native people for centuries. The fruit, which comes in the form of cluster of pods, is sold in the local markets throughtout Malaysia and Indonesia. Petai seeds neatly packed in stylofoam is also available at the vegetable section of supermarket.

Harvesting of the fruit can be done in two different ways. One way is to use a long pole and the other is by climbing up the tree. The main constraint of the former method is the length of the pole, which restricts harvesting to low hanging fruits. The latter method is used by the natives in Malaysia, known locally as Orang Asli.

Mass flowers form a light bulb shape at the end of long stalk.
Mass flowers form a light bulb shape at the end of long stalk.


The trunk of the tree appears straight with smooth bark that varies in color from light grey to brown or dark brown and umbrella shaped crown. A mature tree can grow up to a magnificent 40m(130 feet)tall, although 20m(65 feet) or less is more common.

The flower is cream colored, consisting of multiple florets that form the shape of a light bulb growing at the end of a long stalk. Pollination of the flower is done by bats, which feed on nectar secreted by the flower. The fine twice pinnate compound leaves makes it an ideal tree for providing shade to crop plants such as coffee.

Young seed pods are flat and almost translucent. Mature pods are about 40cm(15 inch) long, light green in color, contain up to 15 seeds and look like twisted ribbons. Up to 8 pods grow to form a cluster at the tip of the branch.

Related species

There are up to 60 species that can be found at the tropical regions of Asia and Americal. These species can be found in tropical South East Asia:

* Pokok Petai (Parkia Speciosa)
* Pokok Petai Kerayung (Parkia Javanica)
* Pokok Petai Maranti ( Parkia Ingsularis)
* Pokok Petai Nering ( Parkia Sumatrana)

Only the seeds of Parkia Speciosa is eaten. Parkia Javanica looks very similar to Petai. The only noticeable difference is its more numerous leaflets, which is almost twice as many.

Prominent buttress root of an old Petai tree.
Prominent buttress root of an old Petai tree. | Source


Wood from the tree is soft and not durable, so that its use is quite limited. It can be used for interior partitioning and boxing. The most important part of the tree is its edible seed.

The seed tastes some what bitter and has a pungent smell that lingers in the mouth, giving rise to the English name of Stink Bean. The smell is so pervasive that even two days after it is eaten, the urine stinks and flatulence is smelly. As a matter of good etiquette, whoever has eaten Petai should rinse his mouth to get rid of bad breath and flush the toilet thoroughly after urinating. Unsurprisingly, taste for Petai is only acquired. The smelly urine is caused by amino acid, which contains sulphur. After breaking down, it becomes hydrogen sulphite; a gas well known for being smelly. One way to overcome this smell is to chew coffee ground for several minutes and then down it with water. Cooking and heating can also reduce the smell to some extend. Smelly flatulence is the result of gases formed by the breakdown of complex carbohydrates in the digestive tracts.

Nutritional Information and Health Benefits

Nutritional content - On average, per 100 g petai seed contains 71 g water, 11 g carbohydrates, 8 g protein, 8 g fat, 76 mg Ca, 83 mg P, 1 mg Fe, 724 IU vitamin A, 0.1 mg vitamin B1, 0.01 mg vitamin B2, 1 mg niacin, and 6 mg vitamin C (Wiradinata and Bamroongrugsa 1994)

Beneficial effect to treatment of the following health conditions:

  • Premenstral Syndrome (PMS)- Vitamin B6 helps to regulate blood-sugar level and keep mood swing in check.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder(SAD) or depression.

    One of the essencial amino acids, Tryptophan can increase the serotonin levels in the brain and induce a sense of well being.

  • Anaemia- High iron content stimulates the production of red blood cells.
  • Constipation- Dietary fiber helps to regulate bowel movement and alleviate intestinal disorders.
  • Diabetes- Diet option for the diabetics due to ability to lower blood sugar level.
  • Heartburn- Antacid effect neutralises the excessive acidic condition in the stomach, creates a coating for the stomach lining and provide soothing relief.
  • Obesity- Digestion of complex carbohydrates is able to give rise to a feeling of stomach fullness and relieve food craving of obese people.

Health food believed to be conducive to the following situation:

  • Memory Improvement- Stimulatory effect on the brain, improve concerntration and alertness.
  • Replenishment for physical exersion due to presence of three types of natural sugars- sucrose,fructose and glucose.
  • Antioxydant that can counter the damaging effects of free radicals, which is reactive and unstable.
  • Hangover Cure- Petai milkshake with honey is an effective remedy after a hangover.
  • Relief for mosquito bite by rubbing the inside of the seed pod against affected area. Alleviate skin irritation and swelling.


Native harvests Petai on tree.

Cooking Chilli Petai

Food and Recipe

Petai can be eaten in many ways. The seeds are first removed from the pods. The white coating around the seed is discarded. The seeds may then be eaten raw, cooked as a vegetable by boiling or frying. It can also be baked and used as a food flavouring.

One popular dish is fried Petai with chilli, onion and shrimp. In Thailand, it is the main ingredient for cooking Green Curry.


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    • sgphilgoh profile image

      sgphilgoh 7 years ago from Singapore

      Only the seeds of Parkia Speciosa is known to have a pungent smell. I believe other species of Parkia are not eaten 'cause they're tasteless, in other words they don't stink. The Thais call it by a different name, Sator. Check up with Youtube if you're interested in Thai version of the dish.

    • snakebaby profile image

      Sabrina Yuquan Chen (陈玉泉) 7 years ago from Boston, MA, USA

      Another interesting and informational hub. Why only the seeds of Parkia Speciosa is eaten? I think there is a Thai dish called something like petai, is it a dish using the seeds? I do smell a bit of stink in the dish, but overall tastes good.