- Demand for more plant-based dishes is on the rise with more than two thirds of UK adults now eating meat-free foods, up from 50% in 2017, according to Mintel's UK Meat-Free Foods Market Report.
- The UK's largest Mexican restaurant chain Chiquito introduced a banana blossom burger to its new vegan menu last year. The menu includes vegan versions of classic dishes like Fajitas, Tacos and Burritos with ingredients such as jackfruit and palm hearts joining banana blossom as meat replacements.
- Banana blossom has superfood status in Thailand according to Saiphin Moore of Rosa's Thai Cafe. The flowers are rich in potassium and vitamins A, C and E, and are typically eaten by women post-pregnancy in Thailand due to its nutrients.
The most recent stop in food operators' ongoing journey to find decent meat alternatives is banana blossom.
This fleshy, purple-skinned flower, which grows at the tip of a bunch of bananas, is currently one of the hottest ingredients in plant-based cooking and - thanks to its texture and neutral flavour – it is likely to be a while before the food world moves on to its next meat-free ingredient hotspot.
Available fresh, or tinned, banana blossom can be served cold or hot, and is highly adaptable to a number of dishes that would usually contain vegetables or meat – from salads and soups, to burgers, curries and even as a fish substitute.
“We first used banana blossom about six months ago when we made a delicious Malaysian coconut and banana blossom curry for our street food events - it's gone down a storm ever since with our customers and we can't wait to start experimenting further,” says Sarah Lowndes, head chef at plant-based restaurant Vegivores in Reading. “It's different, it's exciting, it's intriguing and so versatile.”
London-based fish and chip shop business Sutton and Sons created an alternative to British fish and chips using banana blossom for Veganuary in 2018, but such was its success that it has remained on the menu ever since.
Banana blossom is a recent addition to the menu at branches of Rosa's Thai Cafe too, but is an ingredient Thai co-owner Saiphin Moore has in-depth knowledge of, so can understand its current appeal.
“We haven't used it before as it's an expensive ingredient and has been quite difficult to get in the UK,” she explains.
“We decided to use it for our vegan specials as it's a really interesting ingredient and quite common in Thai cooking. It's in season all year round so it's used in a lot of dishes – you can find it fresh on the side of Pad Thais sold at the market.
“I like to use it as part of a chilli dip called nam prik and also tom kah soup as it's got a mushroom-like texture. It can be also added to my favourite dishes such as Yum salad.”
Saiphin Moore, co-owner at Rosa's Thai Cafe, describes a dish of deep-fried tempura banana blossom with vegan som tum dip: “You can get banana blossom from Asian supermarkets - it'll either be fresh or tinned. You have to prep the fresh banana blossom - it's a bit like an artichoke, so you've got to peel the outside and only use the inside bit. Once it's peeled, cut it lengthwise, and soak it in salt water with a little lime to stop the blossom turning black. Then you have to remove the fibres. My method for doing this is taking some chopsticks, putting them in the water and rubbing the chopsticks between the palms of my hands as this shakes out all the loose fibres. Then drain! We then add the blossom to cornflour and toss to coat, before deep frying until it's crispy and sprinkle it with a little salt while it's still hot. To make the sauce, we mix palm sugar, soy sauce and tamarind over heat until the sugar is dissolved, then let it cool. We then smash garlic and chillies in a pestle and mortar add the soy mix, sliced tomatoes and a little lime juice. We taste as we go as it's got to be sweet, sour and salty. Then we toss the banana blossom in the sauce. Banana blossom is a really healthy ingredient, usually used in Thai salads. It's got a mild nutty flavour, a natural sweetness and it's slightly bitter. It works well in this dish as it's natural meat replacement and its spongy texture can soak up flavours well. It's the perfect base for deep frying and holds the flavour of the dip really well. ”
Danny Sutton, owner of Sutton and Sons, which has three sites in London, uses banana blossom to make a vegan version of traditional fried fish: “We marinate our banana blossom in a mixture of samphire and seaweed to give it a sea/fish-like flavour, then we deep fry it in our own batter. The texture is the biggest thing for us. It's got this great flaky texture, similar to an artichoke and when we batter and deep fry it, it really does give you that similar texture to fish. We've actually been using banana blossom for around two years, as well as offering our other vegan dishes. We like to try new things regularly, so we continue to add to our vegan menu, with things like vegan scampi and vegan prawn cocktail.”
Sarah Lowndes, head chef at Vegivores Natural Kitchen in Caversham, Reading describes a Greek gyros dish featuring banana blossom: “To make the gyros I started by making a marinade out of onions, garlic, soy sauce, tomato puree, smoked paprika, cinnamon, cumin and white pepper. I used tinned banana blossom that I pulled apart by hand and mixed into the marinade. I then cooked the banana blossom in the marinade to allow it to absorb that flavour and become tender. The banana blossom provides a meaty, fibrous texture and does not have a strong flavour so is excellent to use with most dishes as it takes on the flavour of whatever you cook it in. The gyros are served on some warm, fluffy pitta bread with homemade tzatziki and salsa.”