Parker Brody, the senior global category merchant for plant-based at Whole Foods Market, says brands are using ingredients such as legumes and banana blossoms to replicate the delicate texture of fish, specifically naming Upton's Natural Banana Blossom ($3) as one to look for on store shelves. "The purpose of substituting banana blossom for fish is similar to substituting jackfruit for pulled pork," Brody says.
Never heard of banana blossoms? Below, Brody and Melissa Rifkin, RD, explain what they are, how they're being used, and the nutritional benefits.
What exactly are banana blossoms?
"Banana blossoms are exactly what they sound like: blossoms from a banana tree," says Rifkin. Brody explains that banana blossoms are specifically the fleshy flowers that grow at the end of banana fruit clusters. "They're the flower that forms before they blossom and turn into bananas."
You know how artichoke hearts are meaty, yet soft? Banana blossoms have a pretty similar texture. They have a subtle fruity and nutty taste and it's this subtleness that makes them such a versatile cooking ingredient. While banana blossoms aren't very common in Western cuisine, they're often used in Southeast Asian and Indian cooking. "They're considered an edible delicacy and are most commonly used in soups, salads, and curries," says Rifkin.
Both Rifkin and Brody say it's both the subtle taste and soft, chunky texture that make banana blossoms a natural substitute ingredient in plant-based fish products. "They're also soy-free, gluten-free, and have zero cholesterol," Brody says, pointing to another reason why people are drawn to banana blossoms. If you want to cook up fish cakes, fish burgers, or tacos but want to keep it vegan, Brody says banana blossoms are a great way to go.
What are the health benefits of banana blossoms?
While banana blossoms may mimic fish in terms of texture, Rifkin says they have a totally different nutritional profile, so that's something to be mindful of. Protein and healthy fats, for example, are going to have to come from other parts of your meal since those aren't nutrients banana blossoms have. So if you're using 'em to make fish tacos, round out your meal with beans and avocado to cover those bases.
But just because banana blossoms aren't great sources of protein or healthy fats doesn't mean they aren't a nutrient-rich substitute if you don't eat fish. "Banana blossoms have potassium, calcium, as well as vitamins A, C, and E," she says. The potassium in particular makes them a heart-healthy food. Scientific evidence links regular potassium consumption with lowered risk for stroke and coronary heart disease. The calcium in banana blossoms is good for your bones, vitamins A and C support the immune system, and vitamin E is good for the brain and skin.
Rifkin is all for using banana blossoms as a vegan alternative in fish dishes. "It soaks up whatever flavors you cook it with, like garlic or fish sauce, which makes it a great ingredient to experiment with," she says.
You can work protein and healthy fats into your meal with other foods, but cooking with banana blossoms is adding its own benefits. "Banana blossoms are a fish replacement that literally grows on trees," says Brody.
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