Banana leaves have a wide range of applications because they are large, flexible, waterproof and decorative. They are used for cooking, wrapping and food serving in a wide range of cuisines of tropical and subtropical areas. Banana leafs are used for decorative and symbolic purposes in numerous Hindu and Buddhist ceremonies. In traditional home building in the tropical areas, roofs and fences are made of thatched dry banana leaves. Banana and palm leaves were historically the primary writing surface in many nations of South and Southeast Asia.
Applications in cuisine
Banana leaves used in cuisine are generally large, flexible, and waterproof. When cooking food with or serving or wrapping food with banana leaves, they may confer an aroma to the food leaves; steaming with banana leaves imparts a subtle sweet flavour to the dish.
The leaves contain the juices, protect food from burning and add a subtle flavor. In Tamil Nadu (India) leaves are fully dried and used as packing material for food stuffs and also making cups to hold liquid foods. The dried leaves are called 'Vaazhai-ch- charugu' (வாழைச் சருகு) in Tamil. Some South Indian, Filipino and Khmer recipes use banana leaves as a wrapper for frying. The leaves are later removed to retain flavor. In Vietnamese cuisine, banana leaves are used to wrap foods such as cha-lua.
In Indian and Filipino cuisine
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South Indian and some Filipino food (introduced to the Philippines by Hindu merchants) are usually served on a banana leaf. Especially in the South Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala in every occasion the food must be served in a banana leaf and as a part of the food a banana is served. In the Philippines, a common utilization of banana leaves in cuisine is in the preparation of the dessert known as suman, which is a glutinous rice pastry more commonly wrapped in palm leaves. In Goa on many special occasions like ganesh chaturthi people eat on banana leaves.
In Indonesian and Malaysian cuisine
In Indonesian cuisine, banana leaf is employed in cooking method called pepes and botok; the banana leaf packages containing food ingredients and spices are cooked on steam, in boiled water or grilled on charcoal. Banana leaves are also used to wrap several kinds of snacks kue (delicacies), such as kue pisang and otak-otak, and also to wrap sticky pressed rice delicacies such as lemper and lontong.
In Java banana leaf is also used as a coned plate called "pincuk", usually to serve rujak tumbuk, pecel or satay. The pincuk is made by creating shallow cone-shaped banana leaf plate secured with lidi semat (small thorn-like nail made from the coconut leaf mid rib). The pincuk fit the left palm while the right hand used to consume the food. It is functioned as a traditional disposable take-away food container. The cleaned banana leaf is often used as a plate mat; cut banana leaf sheets placed upon rattan, bamboo or clay plates are used to serve food upon it.
In Malaysian and Singapore cuisine, banana leaves are used to wrap certain kuih and otak-otak. Malay food such as nasi lemak are also commonly wrapped with banana leaves before being wrapped with newspaper as banana leaves add fragrance to the rice.
In Caribbean and Mexican cuisine
In Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, banana leaves and parchment paper form the wrapper for pasteles (similar to tamales). Ground green bananas stuffed with meat are packed inside and then boiled with the banana leaf imparting extra flavor and aroma.
Mexican, and more specifically Oaxacan tamales and a local variety of lamb meat, or barbacoa tacos are often steamed in banana leaves. Banana leaves are used for wrapping pork in the traditional Yucatán dish Cochinita pibil. The Hawaiian imu is often lined with banana leaves.
In Central American cuisine
Vigorón' is a traditional Nicaraguan dish. It consists of a cabbage salad known as curtido (chopped cabbage, tomatoes, onions, and chili pepper marinated in vinegar and salt), boiled yuca, and chicharrones (fried pork with skin or with meat) wrapped in Banana leaf. Variations of this dish are also found in Costa Rica.
Nacatamal is made up of mostly nixtamalized corn masa (a kind of dough traditionally made from a process called nizquezar) and lard, but includes seasonings such as salt and achiote (annatto). Filling consists of seasoned pork meat, rice, a slice of potato, bell pepper, tomato, onion, olives, cilantro and/or spearmint sprigs, and on occasion, though less commonly, capers, raisins or fresh chile (red or green) all wrapped in banana leaves. Dish is traditional to Nicaragua in Honduras.
Banana leaves are predominantly used by Hindus and Buddhists as a decorative element for special functions, marriages, and ceremonies in southern India and Southeast Asia. Balinese Hindu prepared banana leaf as the container for floral offerings called canang dedicated for hyang (spirits or deities) and gods. These floral offerings were placed in various places around the house.
As a writing surface
Banana and palm leaves were historically the primary writing surface in many nations of South and Southeast Asia. This has influenced the evolution of their scripts. The rounded letters of many of the scripts of southern India (such as Oriya and Sinhala), of Burmese, and of Javanese, for example, are thought to be such an influence: Sharp angles and tracing straight lines along the vein of the leaf with a sharp writing implement would risk splitting the leaf and ruining the surface, so rounded letters, or letter with straight lines in only the vertical or diagonal direction, were required for practical daily use.
In such situations, the ribs of the leaves function as the dividing lines of ruled paper, separating lines of text. It is believed that this was so influential in the development of rongorongo of Easter Island that the more elaborate wood tablets were fluted to imitate the surface of a banana leaf.
- Patravali, a dried leaf eating plate
- Banana leaf rice
- Strelitzia, a bird of paradise plant with similarly shaped leaves.
- Cochinita pibil, a Yucatán Mexican dish that wraps pork in banana leaves.
- Puto, Bibingka, and Suman, Filipino rice cakes which are traditionally wrapped in banana leaves.
- Molina, A.B., Roa, V.N., Van den Bergh, I., Maghuyop, M.A. Advancing banana and plantain R & D in Asia and the Pacific. p. 84.
- Chu H.-L., Yeh D.-B., Shaw J.-F. (1993.) Production of L-DOPA by banana leaf polyphenol oxidase, Bot. Bull. Acad. Sin., 34: 57–60.]
- Frozen Banana Leaf, Temple of Thai Food Store
- Black Cod Steamed in Banana Leaves with Thai Marinade, Frog Mom
- "Banana". Hortpurdue.edu. Archived from the original on 15 April 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-16.
- Srinivasan, Balasubramanian. "Uses of Banana Leaf". Retrieved 16 May 2012.
- Sanford Steever, 'Tamil Writing', in Daniels & Bright, The World's Writing Systems, 1996, p. 426
- Barthel, Thomas S. (1971). Pre-contact Writing in Oceania. Current Trends in Linguistics 8. Den Haag, Paris: Mouton. p. 1169.