You Should Be Cooking With Banana Leaves. Here's Why

Many of us often default to grilling foods in aluminum foil or steaming them in a basket. But, it might be good to start taking a cue from Asian, African, Caribbean, and South American cuisines and use banana leaves for these preparations. While bananas are a delicious fruit all on their own that we should be adding to our diet, their leaves are also incredibly versatile in the kitchen. 

My Recipes points out that using banana leaves to steam food is comparable to the French technique known as en papillote, which helps retain the juices. The site explains that, in the traditional French method, parchment paper or aluminum foil are used to make a small package containing the food to be cooked. Since banana leaves are malleable with a slightly waxy texture, they can also be folded in the same way to steam, or you can directly place the bundle on a grill.

Happy Belly Fish further explains that wrapping food in banana leaves helps protect it from a direct flame on a grill, resulting in subtler and more smoky flavors. The site also describes the sweet, earthy, and aromatic profile the plant imparts to a dish. According to the article, antioxidants and polyphenols present in the leaves find their way into the food. There may also be health benefits – India Times mentions that the leaves have antibacterial properties that make them a hygienic option to possibly avoid food poisoning. In fact, in India, serving food on banana leaves is considered sacred and a sign of luck, and is often involved in Hindu offerings, as noted by NDTV Food.

There are so many ways to use banana leaves

So many cultures serve dishes wrapped in banana leaves, and they can range from tamales to rice parcels, and spiced meat to fish, says Happy Belly Fish. The blog Desi Dakaar notes how the large size of the leaf can accommodate feasts with numerous dishes. For an easy initiation that doesn't require preparing a multi-course meal, try using the plant to cook a simple protein or vegetable. For example, wrap a white fish filet in a banana leaf along with some fresh herbs and lemon and place it on a grill or in a basket to steam. The juices from the plant will help cook the fish, and the herbs will add subtle seasoning.

While they may not be available everywhere, banana leaves can be found in many specialty food stores and the international aisles of your supermarket, or you can shop for them quite easily online, according to Saveur. The site notes that once purchased, they can be frozen, but should be heated with a light flame over your grill or on a cookie sheet before using to bring back their supple texture and heighten the aromatics.

Besides using banana leaves as a cooking implement, they also make a nice table setting with a unique twist. In tropical countries where they are abundant, banana leaves are often used as plates or to serve street food, making them an eco-friendly alternative to disposable plates (via NDTV Food). There are just so many ways to use them!