The Stink Bean – A Little Smelly, A Lot of Flavor

By Mark Wiens 56 Comments
Stink beans (or bitter beans) on display in Bangkok
Stink beans (or bitter beans) on display in Bangkok

It’s revered in marketplaces, dangled up for display or promoted at the front of the stall, and if you’re a restaurant that serves it, there’s no doubt you’ll hang it near the doorway, luring in the seduced guests.

You’ll immediately know there’s something special about the stink bean.

Stink bean, also known as parkia speciosa, sataw (สะตอ), petai, peteh, bitter bean, smelly bean or twisted cluster bean is widely consumed in southern southeast Asia.

The beans grow hanging from a tree, wrapped in a tough outer skin of twisted pods that grow in clusters.

With a high concentration of amino acids, the nutrition packed bean has an aroma that some say could pass as methane gas – but in a scrumptious sort of way!

The smell doesn’t end at the meal, the scent of stink beans will follow you in a similar way that asparagus makes its comeback: well represented in your urine.

I know, that description is probably not selling you, but let me reassure you that I think it’s probably one of favorite things to eat on the planet.

Peeling the stink beans!
Peeling the stink beans!

Peeling the pods takes a knife to slice open the shell and remove the inner stink beans. The larger the beans are, as I’ve noticed, tend to be packed with a little extra boost of pungency.

Pad Sataw (Stink Beans) ผัดสะตอ
Thai style “Pad Sataw” (Stink Beans) ผัดสะตอ

While Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand each have their own slightly unique ways to cook stink beans, they are commonly stir fried in curry paste and paired with other robust ingredients like garlic, chillies, and shrimp paste.

Pad sataw (ผัดสะตอ) is a Thai dish frequently cooked with either pork or shrimp and flavored with a masterful curry paste blend that includes garlic, chillies and turmeric.

It’s a dish I just can’t seem to get enough of, a combination I wouldn’t hesitate to travel to the ends of the world just to eat.

Southern Thai Food Feast
Southern Thai Food Feast

No southern Thai meal would be complete without stir fried stink beans.

Roasted stink beans
Roasted stink beans

They are not only prepared stir fried, but also roasted in their shell and served along with nam prik, a variation of spicy Thai chili sauce.

Petai bean
Pickled stink beans

I’ve also enjoyed stink beans pickled in sour brine.

The beans don’t lose their awesome flavor but take on a little more of a rubbery texture similar to pickled carrots or radish. It’s like popping skittles in your mouth, only much tastier!

Health Benefits of the Stink Bean

Stink beans are not only heaven to the taste buds, but are also a powerhouse of healthy nutrients. They have been proven to aid in everything from lowering blood pressure to relieving stress and warding off heartburn.

Studies have even revealed that the bean is loaded with natural energy boosting sugars. Pour out your Red Bull and start popping stink beans!

I enjoy eating a large variety of things, but more than almost anything else I include in my diet, there’s truly something magical about stink beans.

The complexity of the flavor, the spices it’s commonly cooked with, and the gaseous sensation that erupts into your mouth with each bite (and comes out in your urine for days of remembrance), makes the stink bean one of the most remarkable plants to eat on the planet.

Oh parkia speciosa, you may be a little stinky, but I dearly love you.



56 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • Leticia Hasse

    2 months ago

    I’ve become a huge fan of yours on YouTube. Even got my family to watch you keep up the awesome work God bless you and your family <3

  • Jess

    5 months ago

    Do we need to remove the “bulb” or the “heart” of the bean after halving it? Some say that may cause cancer..

    • Mark Wiens

      5 months ago

      Hey Jess, thanks for highlighting this. I’m not totally sure, but will look into it.

  • SPWanderer

    6 months ago

    Hi Mark! Do they serve this over at Soei – the restaurant where you took Andrew Zimmern?

  • Anne

    7 months ago

    I would like to buy this stinky beans let me know please

  • Elvie

    9 months ago

    Hi Mark!
    I just had the dish sambal petai with shrimps at a Malaysian Restaurant here in LA. It was my first time to try the Stink beans and its so good, i love it a lot!
    I search it on youtube and voila, i saw your video! Thank you, my curiosity about unusual beans has been answered.

    • Mark Wiens

      9 months ago

      Hey Elvie, wow that’s cool that you can get stink beans in LA, glad you enjoyed it!

  • Simon

    10 months ago

    Where can I buy the Stinky bean seed for my family size plantation?

  • Ron Hahn

    11 months ago

    Hi, Mark! I really enjoy your vlogs. They entice me to go live in Southeast Asia.
    I wish I could get my hands on stink beans here in Seattle (Washington, USA).
    If you know of any sources, please let me know before I, too, start throwing a tantrum.
    Thanks, and keep up the good work!

    • Mark Wiens

      11 months ago

      Hey Ron, thank you very much, really appreciate your support. Not sure where, but if I get any hints, I will for sure let you know. Thanks!

  • miehoen

    12 months ago

    Was always told by Oma that these were good for the kidneys.

  • Ben Dixon

    1 year ago

    Hi Mark, just found your site, I love it, so informative and it is great to see someone who enjoys their food so much! Like me! I am currently in Thailand on a gastronomic tour to find the my food nirvana, I have found a couple of places with this on the menu, bit they are out of season, could you let me know when the season for these intriguing beans is please. Hopefully I can catch them before I leave. Thank you so much for your work Mark. Best wishes to you. Ben

    • Mark Wiens

      1 year ago

      Hey Ben, good to hear from you. Glad you’re in Bangkok and enjoying Thai food. Peak season is usually June – August or so, but you’ll find it in southern Thailand (or Malaysia and Indonesia) pretty much throughout the year. In Bangkok you should be able to get it at southern Thai restaurants like here: http://www.eatingthaifood.com/2011/08/serious-southern-thai-food-feeding-the-addiction-at-lan-luam-dtai-restaurant/

      • Ben Dixon

        12 months ago

        Thank you so much for your reply and advice Mark and apologies for my late reply, we have been doing a bit of island hopping down south and had some incredible food adventures but the stink bean had continued to elude me. Yesterday we got into Krabi and on your recommendation we headed to Nong Joke for dinner! WOW, the food was incredible and I finally got my taste buds onto some stink beans! What fantastic things, I know I will be craving these from here on in! We are going back tonight before we start heading back north! Again thank you for your work, the food at Nong Joke is going to live with me for a long time. Cheers Mark.

        • Mark Wiens

          11 months ago

          Hey Ben, no worries, oh awesome to hear that. Enjoy the food!

  • Peter brunner

    1 year ago

    I finally managed to buy some stink beans over in the UK. I cooked them very simply with garlic and Chilli. I was surprised at how bitter they are. Are they meant to be very bitter or have a missed out a step in the preparation? Is there something that I need to cut out of it?

    I also found some worms in my petai!

    • Mark Wiens

      1 year ago

      Hey Peter, so cool that you found some stink beans. Haha, worms are typical… but they are not usually too bitter. I’m wondering if they became more bitter as they are probably not as fresh as you’d get them in SE Asia? They sometimes have a tiny bitter tinge, but not much. Thank you for sharing though, glad you were able to find some!

  • Naomi Parsons

    3 years ago

    Finally managed to try stink beans for the first time last night; I’d been looking for them for ages and was in my local Chinese food store and saw a lone packet of fresh beans. Made them into a goong pad sator (fried with prawns, red curry paste and lime leaf) the flavour was great but the texture of the beans was fantastic. Very happy!

    • Mark Wiens

      3 years ago

      Hey Naomi, awesome thanks for sharing, glad you found some and enjoyed them!

  • christian beetz

    3 years ago

    hi marc,

    just found your videos here a great help in exploring Bangkok, I tried quite some of the food, and my friend and co worker from Bangkok said, you really picked the highlights of food in Bangkok..so..thanks for your work, I really had a fantastic time n Bangkok.

    • Mark Wiens

      3 years ago

      Hello Christian, thank you for the kind comment and glad you had a great time in Bangkok!

      • Lian

        3 years ago

        Mark I’ve eaten Jongtaa (in my mother tongue) aka Parkia my whole life every season i.e late November to march. What you said about this bean is all true and i cant help but agree to it… its in the farts and urine and even in the breath. The smell is persistent at-least a day and a half. The thing about this Jongtaa is that you cant seem to resist it when its served. I personally dont care about the pungent smell for that matter, it strike taste-bud to the wildest. Fermented fish, dry fish, fermented bamboo shoot etc are some ingredient we often add with the beans.

        I appreciate you to have covered it to the last detail of this particular species.

        • Mark Wiens

          3 years ago

          Hey Lian, YES, glad you feel the same way about stink bean as I do. I don’t care how bad it smells (but I don’t mind the smell), it’s one of my favorite things to eat in the entire world!

  • Elizabeth

    4 years ago

    Now this is why you are my must read culinary travel blog Mark; we Phuketians adore our stink beans!

  • Kar En

    4 years ago

    I’m loving it. I always asked my mom to cook the stink bean cooked with chilies and tamarind in each time I am going back to my hometown. So greedy and hard to share a bowl of this dish with my siblings!

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Hey Kar, glad you love it too! I just had a huge plate of stink beans fried with shrimp yesterday… all to myself!! Where are you from?

  • 2Summers

    4 years ago

    As you can tell, I’m catching up on your blog today. Great name and great photos.

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Thank you very much Heather! It is a great name for a delicious thing!

  • Bama

    4 years ago

    I have loved stink bean since I was a kid! (most of my friends only started to like it when they’re grown up). But I always avoid having them in my dish when I need to meet someone, otherwise the stink is a bit too much. 🙂

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Haha, I eat stink bean (and durian) so much now, I’ve decided to just only meet people that can handle it! We can eat some stink beans together!

  • Stephanie – The Travel Chica

    4 years ago

    With all the great foods you’ve tried, if this is one of your favorites, it must be amazing.

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)

    4 years ago

    These sound like a more potent version of the Japanese edamame! Never heard of them, but I won’t let a little (or a lot!) stink get in my way… I’ll definitely give these a try if I see them in Thailand!

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Cool Steph, they are amazing and available all over Southeast Asia, especially in Thailand (southern), Malaysia and Indonesia – I think you’ll enjoy it!

      • Phyllis

        6 months ago

        Hi Mark. You make me want to eat more exciting foods. Enjoy your videos . Say hello to your wife she seems very special.

        • Mark Wiens

          6 months ago

          Thank you very much Phyllis, that’s awesome to hear.

  • sully86

    4 years ago

    mark: *in a kid like voice* I am throwing tantrum now!!!Me wants stink beans now!!!

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Haha, I have been known to throw tantrums about stink beans as well!