When I say “banana,” you likely imagine that iconic, long, curved, yellow fruit that can be found in just about any supermarket all over the world. However, bananas originally come from India and Southeast Asia, where the entire plant is traditionally harvested for use and consumption. And that includes the fleshy, adaptable, and nutritionally rich flower that appears at the end of every cluster of banana fruit.
Not only is the banana blossom an excellent plant-based substitute for fish, but it also boasts a litany of health benefits. So what say we examine the power of this underappreciated flower further? Let’s dive in!
What Are Banana Blossoms?
Banana blossoms are the purple, tear-shaped, foot-long flowers that grow at the end of a cluster of bananas. They are also known as “banana hearts,” in reference to the fleshy, white center of the blossom that is revealed once the thick, purple leaves (or bracts) have been removed. Both these fleshy leaves and the heart can be cooked or eaten raw and have been used for centuries in Indian and Southeast Asian cuisine in curries, soups, and salads.
The flavor is relatively neutral and resembles an artichoke. It is highly adaptable in terms of what foods can go with it, it absorbs flavors well, and the banana flower’s fibrous texture means that it absorbs as much seasoning as you can throw at it. Thanks to this ability to absorb whatever flavor one chooses to slap onto it, along with its particular brand of fleshiness, chefs around the globe have been turning to the banana heart in recent years as a viable plant-based alternative to fish.
On top of being a really versatile food, banana blossoms contain a wealth of nutritional and health benefits. According to the African Journal of Biotechnology, every hundred grams of the banana heart contains 1.6 grams of protein, 0.6 grams of fat, and 9.9 grams of carbs. They are also high in fiber with 5.7 grams and provide many important dietary minerals like calcium (56mg), phosphorus (73.3mg), Iron (56.4mg), copper (13mg), and magnesium (48.7mg), and a whopping 553.3 milligrams of potassium. And, to top it off, this flower is a source of vitamin E, offering 1.07mg per serving.
The result of such a rich nutritional profile is that the banana blossom boasts a host of remarkable health benefits.
Fights Cancer, Cardiovascular Disease, Infection, and Aging
Want to do everything you can to avoid these horrible illnesses? Want to stay looking and feeling younger? Duh. Well, it just so happens that banana blossoms can help! It has been shown that ethanol extract from banana flowers is effective at treating cervical cancer. But the antipathogenic attributes of this extract mean that it can also be used to prevent infection. Plus, banana flowers contain tons of antioxidants, which prevent oxidative damage to cells, and so protect from cardiovascular disease, simultaneously slowing the aging process.
Helps with Diabetes and Anemia
About one in ten Americans have diabetes, and that figure is on the rise. The more ways we have to counteract this trend the better, and it turns out that eating banana flowers is one of them. These blossoms also reduce levels of many key contributors to diabetes, such as blood glucose, glycosylated hemoglobin, urea, uric acid, and creatinine. The fiber and iron in banana hearts also increase levels of hemoglobin which help combat anemia and all its accompanying symptoms such as fatigue, irregular heartbeat, cold hands and feet, and pale skin color.
Aids Both Menstruation and Lactation
Women deserve all the help they can get in dealing with menstruation as well as post-pregnancy. And all the better if that help comes in the form of a naturally occurring food as opposed to synthetic medications. Banana flowers raise levels of progesterone, a hormone that helps to both allay heavy cramping and reduce bleeding during menstruation. Likewise, they help temper uterine bleeding after giving birth. And, ever the friend of the mother, they are also galactagogues, meaning that they help to promote lactation.
Helps With Kidney Function and Digestive Health
What are some good ways to keep your kidneys healthy? Exercise; drink lots of fluids; keep your blood sugar low… wait, didn’t we already establish that banana blossoms help to lower blood glucose? In fact, many of the high-quality nutrients in these flowers contribute to healthy kidney function, and the consumption of young flowers has even been shown to help dissolve kidney stones and reduce inflammation and urinary problems. Meanwhile, on the other end, the high levels of fiber regularize the bowels and help with constipation.
Preparing Banana Blossoms
One minor downside to this remarkable flower is that it demands a somewhat involved process of cleaning and preparation. First, you have to remove the tough, reddish outer leaves (called bracts). These can be used as a serving dish. Removing the bracts reveals the tiny yellow florets underneath. These are baby banana fruits, however, at this stage, they are very bitter and so must be removed as well. The florets can be used in other dishes but need to be cleaned and soaked in salted or acidic water to remove their bitterness. The pinkish leaves between the outer ones and the heart are tender and edible. The artichoke-like heart is the white part you reach after peeling back all the bigger leaves. This fleshy heart contains a bitter sap and so must also be immersed in acidic water for a couple of hours.
Once you’re done with the prep, you’re all set! Time to make some delicious new dishes. But what to make? Here are a couple of great recipe ideas that use banana blossom to get you started!
Fish ‘n’ Chips
Source: Fish ‘n’ Chips
As mentioned above, banana blossom is an excellent plant-based alternative to fish due to its fleshy, flaky texture. And over the last few years, many recipes for a vegan spin on that classic British dish, fish, and chips, have been popping up online using banana blossoms. So if you’re a lover of that time-honored staple of British cuisine, then this Fish ‘n’ Chips recipe by Stephanie Davies is made with banana blossoms and is definitely a dish you’ll want to make during the week!
Banana Blossom Tom Kha Soup (Tom Kha Hue Plee)
Anyone for Thai? I think I love just about all Thai food, and part of the reason is that so many of the dishes are so easily made vegan. Tom Kha is a soup made with coconut milk, lemongrass, lime, and cilantro and is often made with chicken, but not necessarily so. This Banana Blossom Tom Kha Soup (Tom Kha Hue Plee) by Sarah Jansala is sweet, fragrant, and will scratch that itch for Thai food that I for one am almost never without.
- The Art of Eating Banana Blossoms
- This New Vegan Fish Alternative is Made from Banana Blossom!
- Ripe vs. Unripe Bananas: Which are Better for You?
- The Human and Environmental Impact of Bananas
- Growing Bananas at Home
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