Banana flowers emerge at the end of a bunch of developing bananas and grow from a thick, fibrous stem. The bud has a tapered, cone-like shape and is somewhat large, sometimes growing up to thirty centimeters in length, but is generally found in smaller sizes in markets. The surface of the flower is wrapped in tightly layered bracts, appearing in shades of red-orange to dark purple-red, and these bracts are inedible with a textured, fibrous, and tough consistency. As the outer bracts are peeled away, small, elongated, and slender cylindrical florets appear at the bud’s base. When first revealed, these florets are yellow-white, darkening and oxidizing quickly once exposed to air. The florets are edible but require the hard stamen and outer petal covering to be removed before consumption. Inside the bud, a central white to yellow-hued heart is dense, semi-fibrous, and starchy. The heart is the most prized portion of the flower and contributes a fleshy, chewy, and crumbly texture when sliced or chopped. The flowers should be tightly closed and feel heavy for their size. Banana flowers have a mild, sweet, vegetal, and faintly floral flavor when young, developing more pungent bitter notes and nutty nuances as they mature. Cooked banana flowers will create a softer texture, often likened to the consistency of palm hearts or bamboo shoots.
Banana flowers are an excellent source of potassium to balance fluid levels within the body; phosphorus and calcium to build strong bones and teeth; iron to develop the protein hemoglobin for oxygen transport through the bloodstream; and vitamins A and C to strengthen the immune system, reduce inflammation, and maintain healthy organ functioning. The buds also provide copper to develop connective tissues, fiber to regulate the digestive tract, and lower amounts of magnesium and vitamin E. In Southeast Asia, banana flowers are incorporated into natural medicines to help against infections, improve lactation, promote anti-aging, and reduce anxiety.
Banana flowers have a starchy, fibrous consistency and a neutral, subtly bitter, and fruity flavor well suited for fresh and cooked preparations. The outer, dark-hued bracts should not be consumed, but they can be used as a decorative serving vessel. When the asach bract is removed, the small florets can be separated from their tough stamens and set aside for use with the flower’s heart. Once the bracts have been peeled away to reveal a yellow-white hue, the heart can be sliced into pieces and incorporated into recipes. It is recommended to immerse slices of the banana flower in salted lemon water or vinegar water for at least 20 to 30 minutes to extract some of the bitterness. Banana flowers can be added to fresh fruit and green salads, and younger flowers will have a sweeter flavor for raw preparations. They can also be minced into dips, dumplings, and pastes. Beyond fresh preparations, banana flowers can be lightly steamed and served with dips, similar to an artichoke, boiled in coconut water and stir-fried, or incorporated into curries and soups. The flowers can also be fried into patties, soaked in flavoring, cooked like fish fillets, or sauteed into vegetable, rice, and noodle dishes. In Thailand, young banana flowers are commonly served raw on the side with pad Thai. In Indonesian cuisine, banana flowers are mixed with pork and hot sambal, cooked in a section of bamboo, and served as a festival or wake appetizer. In Brazil, banana flowers are incorporated into pies, quiches, and cooked into various sweet and savory goods. There is also a famous pastry in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais known as pastel de agnu that has its own festival. The festival annually occurs in the city of Itabirito and features food vendors, local growers, restaurants, and arts and crafts vendors, all centered around the famous pastry of the region. Pastel de agnu is comprised of banana flowers stewed with meat and then fried into a dough-like puff. Banana flowers pair well with spices such as turmeric, curry powder, mustard seeds, cumin, and chile powder; aromatics including garlic, shallots, onions, lemongrass, and galangal; coconut milk, macadamia nuts, lime leaves, papaya, and carrots. Whole, raw banana flowers should be immediately consumed for the best quality and flavor. The flowers can also be wrapped in plastic and stored in the refrigerator, or cut pieces can be placed in a sealed container in the fridge for 2 to 3 days. In addition to fresh banana flowers, the buds can also be found canned or frozen for extended use.
Banana flowers are found year-round, varying in availability depending on the climate, region, and hemisphere.