I know we’ve all seen them; we’ve all heard about them; we all know that they play a part in cooking somehow or someway. What exactly is their role and why aren’t we all hoping on the banana leaf train?
Where did this tree come from?
The banana tree originated in southeast Asia, it became a vital plant in the Philippines and Thailand regions. Soon it migrated to Africa and then was introduced to the Europeans and soon brought over to the Americas. At the beginning banana trees weren’t so much used for the bananas themselves, they were used for the pulp inside their trunks, and, of course, the leaves with their great amount of versatility.
So, what exactly do they do?
Here’s the thing about banana leaves, they function as so many different tools in the kitchen! Not to mention being a sustainable option to paper, plastic, foils and parchments and being completely biodegradable. Since they are derived from a plant there’s natural resources and vitamins associated with using them, things you wouldn’t get by using foil or paper plates.
Banana leaves are big enough to be used to wrap food, flexible enough for multiple different uses in the kitchen and are naturally nonstick which makes it perfect for grilling or steaming foods.
Banana leaf is durable enough to hold a variety of different foods while also being porous enough to help with evaporation, steaming and flavor control. Not to mention the natural earthy flavor that would present itself during cooking, you won’t get that from a piece of parchment. The most common uses are to wrap your food with this leaf to aid in cooking and presentation for the meal.
Think about how you would wrap salmon with some lemons and herbs in parchment, then bake on low and let it all congeal and steam together. This is what banana leaves do, they function as that piece of parchment. Not only being an aid to steaming they are fantastic for grilling. Food is delicate, not all food can easily be slapped on a grill neat and tidy, this is where banana leaf comes in.
Lay down a flat leaf on your grill and it acts as a barrier between the open flame and the more delicate of foods. Think you’re wanting to BBQ some chopped mushrooms and onions, if you lay them out on a piece of banana leaf it saves them from falling through the grill grates and or being too exposed to an open flame.
Okay, so they’re great in the kitchen, other than that what could they be used for?
Here’s my favorite thing about them, they make fantastic to-go packaging. In a world where nearly every food we purchase comes with a side of paper, plastic or just a general unfriendly eco product, banana leaves are a huge solution. Being from not only a plant but a plant that is easily and widely grown and produced, it’s a massive sustainable method to how we purchase our foods. You can see it in the street markets of southeast Asia, everything wrapped in banana leaf, ready to be purchased. You can see it in India, where it’s very common and honorable to serve meals on banana leaf.
This immensely versatile leaf can not only play so many roles in the preparation and completion of our meals, it also can play a huge part in the fight for sustainable options and eco-friendly alternatives. The banana leaf should not be overlooked. We should all give it a go and try it with our cooking, maybe then we can see the positive influence it will have on our dishes and the much-needed impact it could have on sustaining our planet.
food wrapped in leaves with hands – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cassava_Bread_-_cassava_cooked_in_leaf_wrap_(Kwanga,_Chikwangue).jpg
street food wrapped in leaves – https://foto.wuestenigel.com/ibos-street-food-wrapped-in-banana-leaves/