The benefits of green banana flour, a new superfood great for gut health

PHOTO: Unsplash

To safeguard their health during the prolonged coronavirus pandemic, many Indians have been turning to traditional wellness practices such as yoga and Ayurvedic treatments - including bolstering their immunity by eating grains, herbs and spices.

A surprise ingredient that has lit up the internet is green banana flour, produced from unripened bananas that are chopped, dried and then ground.

Its popularity soared after Indian prime minister Narendra Modi endorsed the ingredient on his monthly radio programme Mann Ki Baat (Inner Thoughts) in July 2021.

Social media has been flooded with enthusiasts' recipes for easy-to-make dishes that incorporate the ingredient, from brownies to zucchini fritters.

It can be mixed in smoothies and beverages to make a healthy, on-the-go drinkUrvashi Agarwal, an integrative health coach

Science supports the touted benefits of green banana flour, which has been hailed as a new superfood.

Nutritionists say the ingredient is a nutrient-dense, gluten-free alternative to wheat and refined flours. It can be made with or without the peel, though if made with the peel it is usually best used in savoury dishes.

When raw, it retains a slight banana taste but has a nutty or earthy flavour when cooked.

As a grain-free source of complex carbohydrates, it is a good choice for those seeking to lose weight as it helps regulate appetite and prevent overeating.

It is rich in fibre, potassium, magnesium and vitamins, and contains little fat.

"The [green banana] flour's high fibre content not only smoothes the digestion process but also keeps you full for longer, aiding in weight control," says Urvashi Agarwal, an integrative health coach based in India's northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Agarwal says the wholesome flour is loaded with resistant starch and prebiotic fibre that promotes gut health while whittling down belly fat.

Integrative health coach Urvashi Agarwal.
PHOTO: Instagram/Urvashiagarwal1

"The flour promotes digestion and enhances gut bacteria. It is easy to consume and for those who are short on time, it can be mixed in smoothies and beverages to make a healthy, on-the-go drink," she says.

"For infants, it can be mixed in baby food or porridge, while adults can incorporate it in rotis, pancakes, crepes, waffles, breads or cakes. Rich in minerals, the flour is also great during pregnancy and post-pregnancy, and for treating conditions such as diabetes and obesity."

Some Indian hotels and restaurants are adding banana flour recipes to their menus, from savoury dishes such as rotis and dosas (fermented lentil crepes) to desserts.

Gagandeep Singh Sawhney, executive chef at New Delhi's Shangri-La Eros hotel, says there is a growing demand for banana flour dishes.

Shangri-La Eros executive chef Gagandeep Singh Sawhney.
PHOTO: Facebook/Shangri-La Bengaluru

"During the pandemic, most people have pivoted to healthy foods. So we have a lot of guests asking for gluten-free or diabetic [friendly] food, and banana flour fits the bill perfectly."

The hotel kitchen has also started using banana flour in breads, waffles, crepes and tortillas, alongside oat and quinoa flours. "Banana-flour-enriched curries and gravies are tasty and healthy," he says.

Hong Kong-based homemaker Malini Parthasarthy says her family was initially reluctant to try goods made with banana flour, but she convinced them of its health benefits. She started using it to make Indian breads such as idli, dosas and rotis, and in desserts like halwa (wheat flour dessert).

"I incorporated green banana flour into Chinese steamed bread and my Chinese friends loved it. All of them have asked for the recipe," she says.

People in Western countries looking for low-carb substitutes for wheat are also using banana flour. Since it is not milled from grains, the flour is gluten-free and good for people who have coeliac disease, says dietitian Aarti Mukherji, of the Max Super Specialty Hospital in New Delhi.

Banana flour is not a new ingredient. "People in West African, Southeast Asia, and South and Central American countries have used it for centuries," Mukherji says. "It has also been used in parts of Africa and Jamaica, as a cheaper alternative for wheat flour among the poor."

The flour's popularity has also spiked in Southeast Asia. Made's Banana Flour in Bali claims to be the world's first banana-flour bakery. Its Instagram account - with more than 8,000 followers - features its staff with pancakes, breads, muffins, doughnuts, waffles, cakes, pasta and pizza, all rustled up from banana flour.

One post underscores the bakery's commitment to its prime ingredient: "Did you know that 1.4 million bananas are thrown away each day? … And it's usually because of the way they look!" it reads.

"The beautiful thing about green banana flour is that we use green bananas, we're not looking for perfection. Using bananas to make flour decreases overall banana waste consumption."

Farmers say banana flour is an eco-friendly product that promotes planet health. Vasundhara Hegde of Manjushree Home Products, in India's southern state of Karnataka, says she regularly makes banana flour at home for sale and consumption.

India grows 29.7 million tons of bananas annually, she says, and half a million tonnes are lost as the fruit is highly perishable.

"Small-hold farmers in the villages who retail their produce locally often have to sell bananas at throwaway prices when the demand peters out in the off-season," Hegde says.

"Converting this surplus fruit into flour extends its shelf life by around six months, which helps farmers avoid distress sales while offering people a healthier alternative to refined flours."

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This article was first published in South China Morning Post.