Banana Flower or Banana Blossom: Culinary Uses and Nutritional Value
Banana flower, also known as banana blossom or heart, is the splendid looking male, sterile flower of the banana plant. The banana plant is the largest of the herbaceous plants and its flowers are large, pointed and often a crimson color, although some varieties are yellow, and others are pink. Underneath the petals of the flower grow immature bananas. Eventually the petals fall off and the plants stems reveal large clusters of green bananas. At the end of the stems remain the developing flowers, as they are essential for the growth of new bananas. However, at this stage the banana flowers are often cultivated, not just because they are edible but because they are considered a delicacy in many Asian countries; from India to the Philippines. Banana flowers have a sweet scent and a taste, when cooked, that is similar to artichoke.
When referring to banana flowers we often describe the flower of musa sapientum or the common, everyday, dessert banana. However, many people prefer banana flowers from the plantain variety of banana, known as musa paradisiaca, which they consider superior in taste.
Culinary Uses: Banana flowers are cooked by blanching them in boiling water or steaming for about 20 minutes, after which the flower’s outer petals should be removed before slicing or shredding. In the Philippines banana flowers are the main ingredient in linabog or labog, a dish made with coconut milk, spices and dried fish. In northern Thailand banana leaves are lightly steamed, along with other vegetables and served with a dipping sauce made from red curry paste, fish sauce, sugar and lemon juice, known as Nam prik ong. Banana flowers also feature in the cuisine of Laos, known as Lao. They are often an accompaniment to the spicy rice vermicelli soup called khao poon. In southern India banana flowers are used in vegetable curries, or deep fried as fritters. In Sri Lanka, where they are called Kehel, a popular dish made with banana flowers, tamarind, and spices is called Kehel muwa seeni sambol or banana flower curry.
Nutrition: Banana flowers, similarly to bananas are an excellent source of potassium, plus vitamin’s A, C and E. According to research at the Chinese Academy of Tropical Agricultural Sciences, which studied the flowers of musa paradisiaca, banana flowers have tremendous nutritional value, being a good source of fiber and protein. The flowers contain a class of phytochemicals known as saponins. Saponins lower LDL ,or bad cholesterol, boost our immunity against infection and are thought to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. They also have antioxidant activity and so can reduce our risk of chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease. Banana flowers are also an excellent source of flavonoids. These phytochemicals found in many plant based foods help prevent damage to DNA cells by neutralizing free radicals. They also help lower cholesterol, are anti-inflammatory, anticancer and anti-aging.