Banana Tree

Banana Tree

Bananas are the most widely consumed fruits in the world and there are over 29 variaties of bananas in Sri Lanka. It is also an attractive fruit crop for farmers due to its high economic gains throughout the year. Currently, nearly 60,000 hectares of land are under banana cultivation in Sri Lanka, making it the fruit taking up most of the land under fruit cultivation. In addition to being a major staple food for farmers, banana is an important source of income, with excess production sold in local markets.Kurunegala, Ampara and Ratnapura districts together contribute 15 percent of the total banana production in Sri Lanka according to arvey cocted by Department of Census and Statistics.Banana has medicinal properties and is highly nutritious. Its leaves make aromatic eco-friendly plates and food wraps. Its trunk serves a decorative function, especially in ritualistic ceremonies. Its fibres make tough rope and delicate fabrics. And around the banana grove is wrapped a wealth of lore, not least about the origin of this ubiquitous plant.

Banana Leaf

The use of banana leaf in the kitchen is nothing new. Its usage is part of the tradition and culture of many countries. Although the leaves are super versatile, the advances in technology have created alternative materials (e.g. aluminium foil and parchment paper). Believe it or not, nowadays, the banana leaf is often put aside.Leaves are large, flexible, waterproof, and nonstick. Besides that, they are beautiful and always give a nice tropical touch.

How to cook with banana leaf

Although they are not edible, the banana leaves have a very important role in the kitchen. It helps in almost every culinary processes: preparation, service, consumption and even as a packaging.It can be used as:

  • Wrapping for steaming or baking : The banana leaf can hold the liquids of the food, being the perfect package to cook whatever you want, such as vegetables, fish, and chicken. Although the leaf is not consumed, it has a high antioxidant content, these antioxidants are absorbed by the food along with the aroma of the leaf.

  • Non-stick layer for grilling : The banana leaf prevents the food to stick on the grill. In addition, the leaf has the wonderful advantage of being porous and to be an alive element, so it adds a nice sweet and smoke flavour, something that the aluminium foil can’t do.

  • Bowl and boat shapes for baking or grilling : A mixture of the uses mentioned above. In Thailand, we tried Khai-Pam, a grilled omelette on the banana leaf that is amazing. Another example would be the Hor Mok, a steamed fish custard on a banana leaf bowl.

  • Non-stick paper for baking cakes and bread : This is how Bibingka is made in the Philippines. Bibingka is a rice and coconut cake that is baked in a cake pan covered with banana leaves. How about baking a loaf of bread on the banana leaf?

  • Takeaway or to-go packaging : Have you ever dreamed to find a biodegradable and inexpensive takeaway package? Banana leaves can be the solution to that. In Sri Lanka many people sell food parcels in a triangular package made with banana leaf. Just open it and eat the food on the leaf itself.

  • Wrapper for food fermentation : For some foods, banana leaves are also a great element for aerobic fermentation,.It allows air exchange while protects the food and lets the fermentation to occur naturally.

  • A layer for covering plates : In Indonesia, it is very common for dishes to be served with a banana leaf mat on the plate. In this case, the banana leaf has two functions, besides being beautiful, does not let the plates get too dirty. It also contributes to consuming less water for the cleaning! By the way, some local and traditional restaurants called warung makan, use rattan baskets layered with a banana leaf to serve food instead of a regular plate.

  • They can also be the plate itself or even the tablecloth : In South India, there is a festive tradition called Sadhya where a whole feast is served on the banana leaf stretched on the floor. In this tradition, each portion such as rice, dhal, chutneys and curries have their own specific spot on the leaf.

  • To wrap the leftover food : If it is used to cook, serve, and pack… why not store? The banana leaf lasts a long time in the refrigerator and freezes very well.

Variaties of Banana

  • Ambul bananas are famous for being slightly sour but beautifully sweet at the same time. They are petite and slender, sharp-ended, and easy to spot in a crowd. Their skin is relatively thin, covering pale yellow smooshy-soft deliciousness. Best of all, they give out that pungent aroma we all love. According to Sri Lankan tradition, the ambul banana is said to help food move through the digestive tract, and is also considered to be “cooling.” It is therefore not recommended for when you have a cold or a chesty cough.

  • Seeni bananas are similar to ambul in that they too are small in size. However, they are rounder in shape, and taste distinctly sweeter. The flesh of a seeni banana is sticky-sweet. Its skin is thin, rubbery, apple-green in colour when unripe, and buff-yellow when ripe. These bananas are nutrient-rich and, according to Sri Lankan tradition, recommended for the sick, the elderly, and the very young. It is also believed that these bananas are beneficial to those suffering from diabetes and other “sugar” related problems (although the medical and/or scientific accuracy of this belief is yet to be established).

  • While the kolikuttu group of bananas are the stout, plump, blunt-ended cousins of the banana varieties described above, kolikuttu and suwendel bananas are the most highly prized dessert banana varieties in Sri Lanka. Kolikuttus are the choice for offerings and religious festivals. They have a thinner skin, which splits during early ripening, and their creamy-white flesh gives out an appetizing aroma. While they are very much in demand, ripe kolikuttu bananas drop readily from their bunch, making it difficult to transport them. According to local beliefs, kolikuttu bananas are “heaty,” and are bring about constipation. Their counterparts, suwendel, are almost apple scented, and their skin is mustard-yellow in colour, when ripe.

  • The puwalu banana is a slightly less common dessert variety, which takes a curved shape, and whose skin is yellow-tinged brown in colour, when ripe. Its flesh is straw-yellow. Its very attractive counterpart, rath kehel, is famous for its red pigmented skin. The rath kehel is truly a banana of colour, as it’s skin is apple-green when unripe, and turns buff-yellow, and then red, developing brown-black markings, when ripe. Its flesh is sea-foam yellow, and hides within it its minute seeds. It is not terribly sweet, but is certainly softer and sweeter than some banana varieties. Some would, in fact, say it is slightly raspberry-esque in flavour. Interestingly, the red pigment implied in its name only occurs in its vegetative parts (such as its skin) and not in its flesh. Rath kehel is commonly cultivated in Kandy.

  • Anamalu is a local favourite and belongs to the Cavendish group. It is easily distinguished by its slender, long, curved, shape. Its skin, when ripe, is lemon-yellow, and relatively thick. Its flesh is soft, ivory coloured and sour-sweet on the tongue. It is well loved by athletes in Sri Lanka, for its ability to generate a quick burst of energy. It is also of particular use to those suffering from digestive problems. It is said that over-ripe anamalu can help stop diarrhea, while under-ripe anamalu can help ease constipation. Medicinal qualities aside, anamalu is simply one of those great varieties of bananas you have to love if you are Sri Lankan.

  • The Ambun is a dessert variety of excellent quality, again, belonging to the Cavendish group, and therefore rather large in size. It was introduced by the Department of Agriculture in 1927, from Serdang, Selangor, in Malaysia. It is curved (though slightly less curved than the anamalu) and its skin is relatively thick. Although its skin is light green when unripe, it turns buff-yellow at full ripeness. Its flesh is maize-yellow.

  • The nethrapalam however wins, in this group of bananas, for its tremendous stature. Each nethrapalam banana could be up to 12 inches long, and weigh between two to four pounds! While the nethrapalam is certainly less common, it is by far the easiest to recognise, and the hardest to consume on your own (in one sitting!).

  • Rath kehel, The unripe bananas are initially reddish brown-greenish. The skin is smooth and turns pink to reddish when ripe. This banana reaches up to 5cm in diameter and 15cm in length and is therefore larger than all known apple bananas. (“Banana Sini” and “Banana Ambul”) A banana can weigh up to 200g in weight. There are of course smaller fruits, but in general the red bananas are quite thick.

  • Ash Plantain "Alu Kehel", Used in cooking variety. They are small and slightly curved with dark green colour and thick skin. They called Ash plantain due to their colour, misty outside like ash on the skin. When they coked they are delicious with a creamy texture and is known for benefits for digestive health. I didn’t consume much of this because it requires frying and was difficult with my Whole-food plant-based, no oil lifestyle.

Unusual treat: Kesel bode (Banana Stem)

Kesel bode (banana pith) curry is highly recommended by indigenous medicine practitioners for its cooling effects. Alu kesel (ash plantain) pith, the core of the trunk, is the preferred choice, and usually available in private gardens soon after the fruit is harvested. As the tree then dies, it is felled and the pith, usually the section in the lower half of the trunk, from centre to ground level, is cooked into a delicious curry. Preparation: Pare the pith until it is about one to an inch and a half in diameter. Prepare a bowl of diluted coconut milk seasoned with salt and tumeric. Finely shred the pith, which discolours quickly when exposed. Add it to the milk. Add in the other ingredients, which should have been prepared in advance: dry mung fried and ground, small thin pieces of potato, unroasted curry powder, dill seeds, sliced green chillies, sliced shallots, sliced garlic, curry leaves, a stick of cinnamon. Mix and bring to a boil on medium heat. Then add thick coconut milk, increase heat and leave to simmer for a few minutes. Goes well with rice, thosai or rotti.(Recipe courtesy of Chitra Surasena)

Banana Flower "Kehel Mala"

Banana FlowerGrows at the end of a banana fruit cluster and has an intense purple colour with the shape of a tear. The cooked banana flower reminds of the taste of artichokes but cooking it with spices gives it its own identity due to heat and sharpness. It’s also common to find this in pickled form in Sri Lanka.

Fun Fact: "Kehel Mala" is a Sinhalese expression (slang) of rejecting a statement (a stupid claim, obvious lie or an unbelievable statement). It means extreme disbelief. Kehel mala is usually followed by stating the facts

Banana for Decoration

You could see the traiditonal oil lamp is made with gok kola, but most of the time Banana trunk is taken to support the structure. Banana trunk is the underlaying structure for most of the gok decorations

Banana Fiber "Kesel Patta"

Long pieces are torn from the trunkDo you ever need rope or twine to stake plants or to tie something together but find that you don’t have any to use? If you grow bananas or plantain, then there’s an easy way to make some cord that won’t cost any money. You can use the stringy fibres from banana plants to make your own rope—rope that’s very strong and has many uses.

  1. To get the fibres from the banana tree for making rope, it’s best to wait until after the fruit is harvested, then cut the stem into log-shaped pieces. The length of these log-shaped pieces should be the same length you want for your rope.

  2. Now you have your lengths of banana stem cut into pieces like logs. The next step is to peel the leaf sections off the stem, one by one. Depending on the thickness of the tree, you may get up to 20 leaf sections from one log.

  3. After you have separated all the leaf sections from the banana stems, spread them in the sun to dry. You should do this as soon as possible to prevent insects from getting into the leaf sections and damaging them. Leave the sections in the sun for about a day, or until you can see that they are well-dried. If the leaf sections get too dry and are brittle when you want to use them, you can simply wet them to soften them up.

  4. You are now ready to split them into several narrower sections. The width of the narrow sections will depend upon how strong you want the rope or cord to be. You can use your fingers or a knife to tear off strips the size you want. They could be 3 or 4 cm (1 or 2 inches) wide, or wider or narrower. It really depends on how thick and strong you need the rope to be. You might be using these strips as they are, or you might twist or braid several of them together for greater strength.

Banana Benefits

Bananas are a time-tested source of good nutrition. While we have outlined a number of “traditionally held” benefits of banana-eating, specific to the particular varieties grown in Sri Lanka, A few such benefits, not limited to any particular variety of banana, are set out below for your enjoyment:

  1. Being rich in potassium, bananas are nature’s very own energy bars. They also help protect against muscle cramps during workouts.

  2. The potassium in bananas helps control blood pressure, and protects against strokes.

  3. Bananas improve vision and prevent age-related muscular degeneration.

  4. Bananas build better bones. They are a rich source of probiotics, which nourish the good bacteria that produce vitamins and digestive enzymes in the colon, causing an increased absorption of many minerals, including calcium, which strengthens bones.

  5. Bananas are rich in antioxidants and this may reduce the incidence of cancer in the kidneys.

  6. Bananas help ease symptoms related to stomach ulcers.

  7. The fibre, potassium, vitamin C and B6 content in bananas all support heart health.

  8. Bananas contain tryptophan, an amino acid that, studies suggest, plays a role in preserving memory and boosting mood.

  9. Banana trunks and banana skins are used to make rich compost fertilizer and liquid fertilizer

Fun Banana Facts:

On a lighter note, we also stumbled upon a wealth of great banana-related fun facts. Here is our pick of the best of them:

  • The inside of a banana skin can be used to calm an itchy mosquito bite.

  • The kochchikehel variety of bananas found in Sri Lanka is reputed to be an aphrodisiac.

  • The inside of a banana skin can be used to polish your shoes or your leather handbag.

  • Bananas are naturally radioactive due to their high potassium content.

  • Over 100 billion bananas are consumed annually in the world!

Polish shoes with Banana peel

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