During my childhood in Dominica, I knew our family as a banana-growing family. My step-grandfather, Hugh Fabien of Vielle Case, started the tradition. He had acres of bananas close to Blehniem and even more acres in Bois Moore Park. He was a dedicated banana farmer, and I remembered, every fortnight, he’d get a group of young men from the village of Thibaud and Paix Bouche to help him harvest his crops. We’d then go to the boxing plant in Blehniem to sell the bananas, where a company called Gueest would then purchase them, and ship them to England. Of course, the task was daunting, but in the end, it provided a steady flow of income for many in a country where bananas were once the primary export.
I looked forward to those fortnight days. Not only because I’d get a little stipend for my minor contribution to the process, but mainly because I got to visit the boxing plant, where Ms. Toussaint from Vielle Case would be selling two of my favorite foods, from her snackette, hot accra and bakes.
My father, Lipson Massicot, continued in the tradition. We had acres and acres of bananas in Bois Moore Park. He’d hired a steady group of men to help him plant, then deflower the banana (removing the young flowers on the young banana bunches). Every fortnight, he’d select another group of guys to help him cut down the bunches of bananas and then carefully package them in banana boxes, distributed by the Ministry of Agriculture. This new system of harvesting bananas happened after my grandfather had stopped selling them. The government had decided that if they had farmers package the bananas in the field, they’d be less likely to bruise and be more desirable when they reached their final destination. This new process was the same method that farmers in South America were utilizing.
Even though the banana industry on the island fizzled when the U.K. market was no longer prioritizing our bananas, it remained a significant food source for Dominicans. We consume the ripe banana just as much as we consume the boiled green ones. It’s part of our regular diet and a great source of iron and potassium. The bi-products of bananas and other banana plant parts, are equally beneficial. There’s one that we’re underutilizing, and I’m hoping that we can change that.
In the early 2000s BC (before children), I visited Bali, Indonesia, with my husband to celebrate our wedding anniversary. It was one of the countries on our extensive list of places to see before we decided to bring children into our lives. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that banana was also admired just as much as it was in Dominica. I was even more surprised to discover that a part of the banana, banana flower, or what is often referred to as banana blossoms, that we discard in Dominica, would find a prominent place on a restaurant menu, as jantung pisang.
You can imagine how shocked I was to find out that the “popot fig,” as it’s affectionately referred to in Dominica, was a food item that folks ate. I had a powerful urge to try it at one of the restaurants we visited. The banana flowers were cooked in a coconut curry sauce. I was pleasantly surprised by the taste and immediately saw an opportunity for Dominicans to incorporate this part of the banana plant into their diet.
My curiosity got the best of me. I asked our tour guide about the preparation of the banana flower. He mentioned that it needed to be cleaned first since it’s very bitter. He said that the cleaning process was the most time-consuming but vital part of the process since the bitterness needed to be removed. He also mentioned that it could be stir-fried, boiled, fried, or even eaten as a salad. I did some additional research and found that the cleaning process takes a while, but you can’t miss this part of the process to enjoy it.
What is banana flower
Common in South-East Asian cuisine, banana blossoms (banana flower or banana heart) are the tear-shaped maroon or purplish flowers hanging at the end of banana clusters.
You can cut the banana flowers directly from the banana plant. However, when selecting it at a grocery store or market, choose a firm one with tightly packed petals showing no signs of decay.
The tough reddish leaves on the exterior are known as bracts. Beneath these bracts, you’ll find a row of delicate yellow-tipped florets. The colorful florets require a tedious cleaning process.
Here’s how you clean banana flowers
- Pluck and discard the matchstick-shaped pistil (tough and not pleasant to consume). Remove and discard the scale-like outermost petal (calyx). You have to do this for every floret.
- The younger florets in the whitish, yellowish bracts, don’t require cleaning. When you reach close to the core or heart, you can discard the conical stem. In some Asian countries, the core is chopped and cooked as well.
- Soak the florets in acidic water (water with lime, vinegar, or another acidic solution) immediately for several hours or overnight to prevent browning and remove the bitterness. Rinse in cold water, drain and squeeze out excess water.
- Cook and enjoy your florets.
Banana flowers are said to have many health benefits and contain numerous nutrients.
Here are some health benefits of banana flowers
1.To Help Fight Anemia
The high concentration of iron in banana flowers helps optimize red blood cells’ production process and fight anemia.
2. For Digestive Health
Since banana flowers are rich in fiber, they smooth the digestive system and maintain digestive help.
3. Help Fight Diabetes
People with diabetes are usually careful in consuming sugar. Besides being good for digestion, the fiber content in the banana flowers helps prevent spikes in blood sugar. There was study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information which mentioned that banana flower addresses pseudostem ameliorated diabetic complications and reduced formation of advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) which are proteins or lipids that become glycated as a result of exposure to sugars. See article here
4. Weight Loss
Because of its high fiber content, the banana flower can enhance your feeling of fullness.
Instead of meat, this is a great vegetarian option.
Sauteed banana flowers
- wok, frying pan or skillet
- 2 Banana flowers
- 2 tbsp oil
- Chopped parsley
- Chopped peppers
- Chopped onion
- Crushed garlic
- Chilli pepper
- 1 teaspoon Turmeric
- 1 cup Vinegar
- 2½ cups water divided
- Peel away purple shell called bracts. Make sure the shells are tight against each other. Discard loose petals that fall off without being plucked.
- Remove rows of petals and secure them
- Continue to remove the petals until you get to the yellow section of the core. This is where the younger petals are
- Place the younger unopened petals aside since they do not require cleaning
- Clean the petals by removing the tall skinny matchstick-like pistil and the outer facing white petal (it's different from the other petals).
- Add all of the vinegar and most of the water to a container (leave half a cup of water to add to the petals when cooking them.)
- Soak the flowers in the vinegar water solution overnight to help remove the bitterness
- Rinse and drain
- In a hot pan add all other ingredients except for banana flowers
- Stir continuously
- Toss in banana flowers, stir and add about ½ a cup of water
- Cover and let it simmer a bit
- You can add coconut milk if you'd like. For this recipe, I omitted the coconut milk
- Pour it over rice and enjoy