Parkia speciosa, more generally known as the stinky beans tree or petai, is endemic to the tropical rainforests of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand. The tree’s lengthy pods are filled with numerous tiny seeds that are encased in a pulp so thick and aromatic that it smells like rotting flesh when cut open, earning the term “stinky beans.”
Historically, stinky beans trees were prized for their usefulness as a medicine all the way back in ancient times. The foul-smelling bean pods were a traditional cure for several conditions, such as fever, coughing, and gastrointestinal issues. Natural insect repellant was another application.
The trees that produce stinky beans were once a major source of food in Southeast Asia. The pods’ pulp is used in local recipes like sambal goreng and rendang, and it is believed to have a pleasant nutty flavour when cooked. The beans themselves are a delicacy in some sections of the region, and can be consumed roasted or cooked.
The smelly beans tree has served many functions in history, including those unrelated to medicine and food. The wood from this tree is highly sought after because of its durability and resistance to insects. Similarly, the tree’s leaves and bark are harvested for their therapeutic use.
Stinky bean trees have long held cultural and economic significance in Southeast Asia, and this has not changed. They are a staple in the local diet, a valuable source of building materials, and a beautiful addition to any garden.