Banana Blossom Is the Vegan Fish Alternative Everyone Can Appreciate

Banana blossom, which can be prepared as you would a vegetable, also happens to make a convincing substitute for fish.

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Banana and banana blossom
Photo: Adobe Stock

Step aside, jackfruit — there's a new plant-based protein alternative in town. Banana blossom, a common ingredient in South Asian cuisine, is the ultimate plant-based fish substitute. Not only is it nutritious (just like the banana fruit from the same tree) but, it even flakes like the real thing once cooked. Curious? Read on to learn about banana blossom, how to use it in place of fish, and other ways to prepare it.

What Is Banana Blossom

Banana blossom — aka banana flower or banana heart — is the large, magenta-colored, teardrop-shaped flower that grows at the end of a banana bunch. (Each flower has a cluster of yellow-tipped florets around the base; if left on the tree, those florets become bananas.) Parts of the florets and inner petals can be eaten raw or cooked; the outer petals are pretty tough, so they're pretty much considered inedible.

BTW, the entire flower is called a banana blossom, but for the purpose of this article, the term "banana blossom" will refer to the inner petals, which are more commonly used in recipes and sold in cans.

Why Banana Blossom Is the Best Fish Alternative

Reason number one: It's nutritious. Similar to the yellow fruit you know and love, banana blossoms are an A+ source of vitamins — specifically, vitamins A, C, and E — and minerals — such as magnesium and potassium, according to an article published in the International Journal of Current Research. What's more, banana blossoms are rich in fiber, which can help improve digestion and absorption of food, explains Allison Gregg, R.D.N., L.D.N., registered dietitian and nutritional consultant for Mom Loves Best. Banana blossoms also contain a "significant amount" of disease-fighting antioxidants and polyphenols, according to a study published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology.

Banana flowers have a naturally neutral taste, so they can easily pick up the flavors ofingredients such as kelp powder or nori flakes, which can add a briny flavor similar to that which you'd find in fish. The barely-there taste is also the perfect base for lemon, dill, and salt — ingredients typically used in seafood recipes. As for the consistency, banana blossoms have a layered, soft, and fleshy texture. When you bite into a cooked blossom, it will lightly flake and pull apart — again, as you'd expected with a flaky white fish. (

Add this all up, and you've got a plant-based foodie's dream come true.

Where to Buy Banana Blossoms

Making banana blossom "fish" is easy — promise. The tricky part tends to be simply finding banana blossom, which isn't as common in major U.S. markets as it is in Asia, where it's traditionally used in dishes such as curries, salads, stews, and soups, according to the International Journal of Current Research.

Your best bet for finding banana blossom is likely at specialty Asian markets and health food stores. But before you purchase, it's important you know what you're looking for and how you plan to use it. See, banana blossoms come in a variety of different versions: fresh, packaged, and canned.

Cleaning and preparing fresh banana blossoms takes practice — it includes peeling back petals on repeat until you (finally!) reach a white banana heart in the center, which you'll slice and dice to prep depending on your banana blossom recipe. Point being: You might want to use packaged banana blossoms, which have already been prepped, for ease.

For the banana blossom recipe below, you'll need canned banana blossoms in brine or a simple saltwater solution. Canned banana flowers have a mild flavor that can pick up seasonings and spices. (You don't want to use the jarred banana blossom that's pickled in vinegar for faux fish. The vinegar flavor may be too overpowering for the dish.) You can try buying banana blossom in a can from online retailers, such as Nature's Charm Banana Blossom in Brine (Buy It, $4, veganessentials.com), or in a packet, such as Upton's Naturals Organic Banana Blossom in Brine (Buy It, $4, veganessentials.com). Both options contain banana blossoms in a saltwater brine. But take note: "Some brands are very high in salt, so try to choose an option that does not exceed 300 milligrams of sodium per serving," advises Gregg.

Oh, and while you're shopping for ingredients, be sure to pick up seaweed flakes or powder, such as Maine Coast Organic Kelp Granules (Buy It, $6, amazon.com). These are essential for adding that classic briny flavor to banana blossom if your goal is vegan fish.

Upton's Naturals Organic Banana Blossom in Brine

uptons-naturals-banana-blossom

Once you've secured your banana blossom (in this case, in brine), time to start cooking. Ahead, exactly how to turn your banana flower into a delish faux-fish, according to Gregg.

Banana Blossom Vegan Fish Recipe

Makes: 6 to 8 vegan fish fillets

Cook time: 10 minutes

Total time: 25 minutes

Ingredients

Faux fish:

  • 2 18-ounce cans banana blossoms in brine
  • Vegetable, canola, peanut, or safflower oil (or another high-heat oil)

Flour mixture:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons nori flakes (or kelp powder)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons dried dill
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Pinch of paprika (optional)

Batter:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoons sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice (or lime juice)
  • 2 tablespoons pickle juice
  • 1 cup lightly flavored beer (or unflavored sparkling water)
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric (for color, optional)

Directions

  1. Carefully drain the banana blossoms from the brine liquid and pat them dry, removing any small pieces to use in another recipe. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients for the flour mixture. Feel free to use more or less of certain seasonings, depending on your taste preference.
  3. In a separate large bowl, combine all of the batter ingredients. Gradually add the beer or sparkling water, mixing until the batter is smooth and thick.
  4. In a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat, add a few inches of oil. Place the banana blossoms in the flour mixture, making sure to coat both sides; then dip the blossoms in the batter.
  5. Carefully place in the hot oil, lowering each blossom away from you in case the oil splatters. Fry 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until crispy and golden brown.
  6. Use tongs to transfer to a wire rack on a tray or plate lined with a paper towel. To serve, drizzle with lemon juice and serve with vegan tartar sauce.(Tip: Make the tartar sauce from this flounder recipe and use vegan mayo in place of the mayonnaise and yogurt.) Pair with French fries for vegan fish n' chips.

Adapted from a recipe provided by Allison Gregg, R.D.N., L.D.N.

Other Ways to Cook Banana Blossom

Banana flower fish is just one way to enjoy this versatile ingredient. Try adding it to dishes that call for meat or preparing it as you would other veggies. Here are a few more ways to eat banana blossom:

… In curries. Add sautéed blossoms to your favorite vegan curry recipe and serve it over rice.

… In a salad. If you're all about spicy dishes, make a classic Vietnamese banana blossom salad with this recipe from Green Kitchen Stories. Thinly slice the flowers, marinate in soy sauce and lime juice, then toss with mango, carrots, and peanuts. You can also try cooked or raw banana blossoms in any go-to salad.

… In tacos. Give Taco Tuesday a meat-free spin by filling the tortillas with battered banana blossom vegan fish like the recipe above. Alternatively, chop banana blossoms out of the can and sauté with taco seasoning.

… As burgers. Sick of black bean patties? Shake up your sandwich game with these Filipino banana blossom burgers from food blog Kawaling Pinoy. Pair with your favorite burger toppings and dig in.

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