West’s new fad: Eat that banana peel, don’t throw it

In many regions of India, where sustainability is typically the norm, the humble peel has always been considered edible

Similar to cauliflower and raw jackfruit, the banana peel is quickly playing substitute for several meat-based ingredients in popular dishes.

Move over, cauliflower and raw jackfruit. The banana peel is here.

The banana peel as an edible item, an exotic ingredient in ‘food couture’, is growing in stature. Western cuisine, especially the vegan variety, is waking up to the possibility of using it as a meat substitute — as pulled pork or pulled chicken or bacon.

In a movement similar to the use of cauliflower and raw jackfruit as a replacement ingredient in popular food items — such as pizza, fried rice and pork dishes — the banana peel is quickly playing substitute for several meat-based ingredients.

The peel is gaining popularity not only for the sustainability that it presents, but also for the taste, flavour and texture that it lends to the food.

Celebrity push

The trend can be more or less traced back to Nadiya Hussain. The cookbook author and British TV culinary star, during a ‘lockdown’ episode, discussed how food scraps can be deployed gainfully. Once you make banana bread, don’t throw away the peel, she said. Instead, cook it with garlic, onions and barbecue sauce, and it’s like pulled chicken or pork when used in a burger, she advised.

And then came another culinary star, Nigella Lawson, with a dish based on cauliflower and banana peels. Since then, the humble peel has not looked back.

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In the West, where the peel has always been considered a waste, to be used at the most in the role of a compost ingredient, the recipes are a bit of a hard-sell. In India, the story is different.

Traditionally popular

In a land which has lived sustainably down the centuries, where home-makers have always been loath to throw away anything that is not toxic, the banana peel as ingredient has been par for routine, at least in some regions.

The banana, in particular, is considered a 100% useful plant — from its stem to its leaves, flowers, fruit and fibre. In Bengal, for instance, the unripe skins are cooked and ground with garlic and green chiles. This is then sautéed with seasonings, to be served as a side with rice or roti.

Down South, where the raw banana pakora is a popular snack, the unpeeled vegetable is cut into thin slices and deep fried. Some Kerala recipes include the skin of the banana in the curry, particularly when it is soft and tender.

Again, in the South, the banana peel is often a chutney ingredient. It is sauteed till soft, and ground with chilli, onion and/or coconut scrapings and seasoned.