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Jul 22, 2009 11:13 AM

Can you identify these mystery pods?

This weekend I stocked up on makrut lime leaves, chile paste, and other fine things at Lao Market (Oakland, CA). If you're into Thai or Lao cooking and live in the Bay Area, you owe it to yourself to visit.

Some interesting-looking bean pods caught my eye on the way out, and I added them to my purchase. There were no English-speakers in the store at the time, so I figured I'd look the pods up in my Plants of SE Asia book when I got home. On the way to the car, the owner of the Cambodian market next door (this neighborhood is an Asian cook's dream) came out to the sidewalk and admired the beans sticking out of my bag, asking me what I was planning to do with them. I was about to ask her what she'd do with them -- and what they're called, of course -- when her phone rang and she rushed back in to the store to answer it. I lingered on the sidewalk with my bag 'o' bean pods for a few minutes, feeling as awkward as a guy lingering on the sidewalk with a bag 'o' bean pods, then headed for my car.

I couldn't find the bean pods in my book, so I appeal to you, dear Chowhounds. Any idea what these are (see photo) or what they're good for? They sure are attractive, but I didn't get the sense they're sold for decoration. The tentative nibble I took didn't have any discernible flavor.

(Big image at


Lao Market
1619 International Blvd, Oakland, CA 94606

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  1. Might those be an immature bean? The seeds are so small. Also, the pods look like they turn. How did they look in the bin at the grocer? This pic is of Thai Twisted Beans.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Salty_Loves_Sweet

      Aha! I think you may have nailed it. Thanks! They may in fact be immature sadtaw beans. They were sold as a bunch of 50 or so pods with a rubber band around them. Just as the Wikipedia entry ( puts it, "When young the pods are flat because the seeds have not yet developed, and they hang like a bunch of slightly twisted ribbons, pale green, almost translucent." To which I'd add that the pods have a subtle rust color in the center.

      I have frozen mature sadtaw beans in my freezer, but full-grown and out of the pod, there's no way I'd make the connection.

      Incidentally, the Wikipedia piece says "At this stage they may be eaten raw, fried or pickled. Young tender pods with undeveloped beans can be used whole in stir fried dishes." And so I will.

      1. re: Herbaceous

        i've not seen them before, so i can't comment, but they look like they'd be great in a stir fry!

      2. You know, they look like immature wild tamarind seed pods. I am gonna find a pic...

        Yup: Look familiar? They turn brown as they mature. They are not like the other tamarind where they get those big, fat, leathery seed pods.

        What do you think?

        I LOVE a mystery!

        3 Replies
        1. re: Sal Vanilla

          There's certainly a strong resemblance. Given that wild tamarind seems to hail from the Caribbean (based on my cursory reading of a few Web pages) and sadtaw from SE Asia, I'm betting my mystery pods are sadtaw. After all, I bought them at Lao Market.

          I've only nibbled the pods but haven't yet tasted the seeds. If they taste like methane, these are sadtaw pods. If there's no methane taste but my hair falls out, they're wild tamarind!

          1. re: Herbaceous

            Tamarind is originally from Africa. Your pods look like a lot of immature seed pods from leguminous trees.

            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

              "Wild Tamarind" is not wild tamarind. From

              "Wild tamarind, also called Bahama lysiloma, is found in the Florida Keys and parts of south Florida. Wild tamarind is native to these areas and to the Bahamas, Cuba, and West Indies. It is one of the many species of the legume family, Leguminosae, found in the Keys and south Florida."

              So, yeah, they're immature seed pods from a leguminous tree. But the question of which leguminous tree that is remains.

        2. Thank you for calling Makrut Lime Leaves by this name. Their other designation is offensive and I am pleased to see Makrut Lime Leaves used instead. Thank you.

          1. You bought a Lao vegetable known as kathin.

            It's scientific name is Leucaena leucocephala.


            4 Replies
            1. re: yummyrice

              We used that and other legume trees in SE Asia (including in Lao) for improved soil and land management. Leucaena has been used all over the world, but not much as human food.

              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                Isn't it toxic to certain animals?...but safe for human consumption.

                1. re: yummyrice

                  Among legume trees, Leucauna leaves are among the least palatable for livestock. There are many tastier tree leaves. The young pods of Moringa oleifera (albeit not a legume; malunggay in the Philippines) are commonly consumed from Africa through SE Asia. Many forages can have toxic effects for animals that eat a lot of something. Humans never eat enough of any of such species to suffer.

                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    I love those young "mah ka-tin". We eat them raw, and its not the same as "sadtaw". We eat the young tips, young pods, and when it's a little bit older, you can actually eat the peas. The best is to eat them with papaya salad. Oh, another thing, it smells bad........but it's good.

            2. They're called Koa Haole in Hawaiian. I was surprised to see them all over the island because I always thought they were Asian. My parents have a tree in their backyard. I hate the way they taste. They are bitter and have a funky aftertaste.