Well+Good has watched this for a while too, as healthy eaters have sought to replace traditional wheat flour with gluten-free alternatives sourced from fruits and vegetables. Almond flour, coconut flour, even apple flour have all gained traction with the wellness crowd. And we're going one step further to say that banana flour is the next up-and-coming alt-flour.
The humble banana has already shown to be a rising wellness superstar in other ways, popping up in the form of jerky, chips, and even serving as a base for vegan ice-cream. Now, brands like Hearthy Foods ($19 per pound), LiveKuna ($25 for 32 oz), NuNaturals ($12 per pound) are all jumping on the banana flour bandwagon to help healthy eaters a way to use the ingredient in foods they're making at home.
Banana flour is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a flour-like substance made from green, unripe bananas. "The way we make our banana flour is by gathering the bananas when they're still green and then slow cooking them before it's finally milled [aka ground into a fine powder]," says Hearthy Foods founder Riaz Surt. Santiago Stacey, the co-founder and CEO of LiveKuna, says their production process is similar. "We first wash organic green bananas, then peel, wash again peeled, then cut into smaller pieces before drying, milling, and blending into powder," he says. The end result is a mildly sweet product that is versatile enough to work in nearly any recipe that calls for all-purpose wheat flour, not just pancakes and muffins.
From a health standpoint, registered dietitian Malena Perdomo, RD, says that there are some major benefits to swapping out your all-purpose flour for this alternative. "Two big positives are that it adds fiber and potassium to whatever it is you're making," she says.
Speaking of bananas and baked goods, check out the video below to see how to make a healthy banana bread:
Banana flour is low on the glycemic index, she says, which means it won't spike blood sugar levels. "This is because green bananas are used to make banana flour; it isn't until bananas ripen that they produce a higher amount of natural sugar," she explains. "Green bananas also contain resistant starch which works as a prebiotic, feeding the good bacteria in the gut," Perdomo adds.
"Another plus for banana flour is that it's an alternative that's both gluten- and nut-free," Perdomo says, name-checking two big food allergies that prevent many people from being able to enjoy traditional baked goods.
As far as how it compares to the other popular gluten-free flours on the market, Perdomo says there are pros and cons. Almond flour and oat flour are higher in protein, but don't have the prebiotic resistant starch banana flour does. And while banana flour has potassium, almond flour is higher in vitamin E, and buckwheat and millet flours (other popular GF picks) have more iron.
The tl;dr takeaway when it comes to banana flour, though, is this: Like with any food, deciding what to cook with depends on both personal health needs and preference. While virtually any fruit or veggie is most beneficial in its whole, unprocessed form, incorporating banana flour into your recipes provides just one more way to get more produce in your life. That's an outcome that's proving to be pretty, er, fruitful.
If you're on the hunt for fruit low on the GI index, check these eight out. And if you've been debating going gluten-free, here's what you need to know.
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