Tag Archives: banana

Banana Flowers and Other Edible Parts

22 May

Being a bit less mobile than usual, I thought I’d use the opportunity to choose a photo I’ve previously taken and see if I can learn more about the subject. What you see below is commonly called a banana flower or banana blossom (photo taken at the United States Botanic Garden). I’ve always been struck by this part of the plant, a deep-red appendage that dangles below the bunches of bananas. Though we like to think of the banana plant as a tree, it is technically a perennial herb, albeit a really big one; it dies down to the ground after the plant flowers and produces fruit. The inner part of the stem of the plant (which is actually a false stem consisting of leaf sheaths) is edible, as are parts of the flowers–they are considered vegetables and are popular in Asian and tropical cuisines, where they are used in salads, curries, stir fries, and other dishes.

The banana “flower” seen in the photo above is actually the lowest part of an inflorescence consisting of layers of bracts (the petal- or leaf-like parts) that cover rows of  flowers. The female flowers are higher up and can develop into fruit (bananas). Once that happens, the inflorescence elongates and produces a terminal male bud. Here, the redder (and tougher) outermost bracts of that bud have opened upward, revealing yellow-tipped male flowers underneath and paler closed bracts below.

Different parts of the banana flower (or bud) can be eaten: the innermost bracts, the florets (once the stamens and tough covers have been removed), and the inner core, or heart. The tougher outer bracts are often used as serving plates for dishes made with the other parts of the banana flower. I don’t have easy access to banana flowers, but if you do and want to experiment with them, here are some resources:

To read about the ornamental Golden Lotus Banana/Chinese Dwarf Banana, see this post. To read about the difference between Musa (bananas), Strelitzia, and Heliconia, see this post.

And here are some additional banana-related photos:

1) A banana leaf unfurling at the Eden Project in England. Each leaf emerges from the center of the banana plant in the form of a rolled cylinder. Once the last leaf has emerged, the plant produces the inflorescence, which starts off pointing skyward, but then falls over and dangles as it gets heavier and the female flowers develop into bananas.
2 ) Banana bunches on the plant (with the terminal bud having fallen off). Some bunches can contain 200-300 bananas each; the largest one recorded by the Guinness Book of World Records contained 473 bananas and weighed 287 pounds.
3) Banana transport in Rwanda.


Recipe: Banana Chocolate Chip Muffiins

24 Jun

Prerequisites: lazy Sunday morning, very ripe bananas, recipe requiring minimal prep time, final product not requiring a fork or plate, and tea/coffee and newspaper at hand.

As an added bonus, this recipe is vegan, which not only produces deliciously moist muffins, but also means kids (and adults) can lick the bowl.  The vegan recipes our non-vegan family likes best are those made with every-day, non-perishable ingredients we always have at hand (vanilla soy milk has become one of those ingredients; I keep some in the cupboard for just this purpose, though it goes into the fridge afterward).

During WWII, when butter and eggs were rationed, many cooks in the United States and elsewhere turned to vegan baking out of necessity–hence a whole generation of “crazy cakes” and other confections. If you have not tried anything vegan, try these. They are scrumptious. But if you prefer, you can always substitute regular milk for the soy milk.

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins
Makes 16+ muffins

1 1/4 c. unbleached white flour
1/4 c. whole wheat flour
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. sugar (I like to use 1/2 c. white sugar, 1/2 c. brown, or whatever I have on hand)
1 c. chocolate chips
1/2 c. chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
4 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 c. canola oil
1/4 c. vanilla soy milk
2 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. Spray muffin tins with baking spray or use liners.

In a medium bowl, mix dry ingredients, including chocolate chips and nuts (if using). In a large bowl, mix wet ingredients. Gently fold dry ingredients into wet. Spoon batter into muffin tins, filling about 3/4 full. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until toothpick (or knife or fork) inserted into the muffins comes out clean.