For most of my life, seafood was my go-to protein. As a kid, I chose shrimp over chicken tenders; as a teen, fish tacos eaten right off a taco truck and seafood-centric pastas were my favorite meals. Until I ate a basket of fish tacos one afternoon and broke out in an allergic reaction, that is.
Though I didn’t initially want to give in and face the fact that I’d developed an allergy to seafood, a battery of tests (and a few rounds of sushi) confirmed that fish was no longer an option for me. And ever since, I’ve searched for something that could replicate the flavor and texture of fish, to little avail.
While beef and pork have well-known – and increasingly widely available – plant-based alternatives, there aren’t really any options for those who enjoy seafood. But banana blossom could change this.
Banana blossom is being touted as a realistic fish alternative that’s vegan and perfectly allergy-friendly. And when I came across this unfamiliar food, I knew I had to try it.
What is banana blossom?
An ingredient that’s long been used in southeast Asian and Indian cooking, banana blossom is a flower with edible parts and pieces. Banana blossom, or banana heart as it’s sometimes called, grows along with a bunch of bananas. As banana plants grow, they develop large, purple-pink flowers with clusters of small yellow florets circling their bases. Those florets eventually grow into bananas, if they aren’t harvested as blossoms.
While the whole flower itself is called a banana blossom, only the florets and the inner petals are edible. The large purple-pink exterior petals are too tough. So, when we talk about banana blossom as a food, it’s only the florets and the inner petals that you’ll be able to use.
This blossom is typically sold in one of two ways: canned or in sealed pouches. Once it’s harvested from the banana plant itself, the florets and innermost petals are packaged in brine. While this flower can be eaten raw, it’s uncommon to find raw banana blossom in North America.
Banana blossom is highly nutritious
Like many other plant-based foods, banana blossom is nutrient-rich. Banana blossom offers vitamins A, C and E, which are all antioxidants. These vitamins also benefit your cellular growth, bone health, connective tissue and immune system, and they’re a central part of any diet. Banana blossom also provides a serving of important minerals, like potassium and magnesium. And each flower’s edible parts are also rich in dietary fiber.
And just like many fruits and veggies, banana blossom also contains polyphenols. These are plant compounds that are fantastic for your overall health, as polyphenols have the potential to improve your heart health, digestion, brain focus and memory, blood sugar levels and more.
As an alternative to different kinds of seafood, banana blossom doesn’t have all of the same nutritional value. It’s particularly lacking in protein, a key nutrient in any type of seafood. But this plant does provide a solid amount of its own varied vitamins, minerals and more.
What it’s like to prepare and eat banana blossom
After discovering banana blossom, I decided to put it to the test as a fish alternative. I located the flower (in canned form, with brine) and researched different recipes and preparation methods. The general consensus was that it’s best battered and fried.
Since I’ve long missed coconut shrimp, I decided to use our own Coconut Shrimp with Spicy Pineapple Dipping Sauce recipe, subbing the banana blossom in for the shrimp. The banana blossom was pretty easy to batter, aside from its somewhat slippery texture right out of the can.
When my faux fish was ready to eat, it was pretty convincing – at least visually. The baked blossoms shredded and came apart easily like a fish stick would, and it even appeared fish-like in color. Texturally, it was a pretty close match.
However, there’s one big disadvantage that banana blossom has as a stand-in for fish: it’s essentially flavorless. Biting into a piece of my baked blossom gave me solely the flavor of the batter itself – the “fish” inside had no taste. The pineapple dipping sauce helped, but the seafood flavor I was craving was definitely lacking.
So, if you’re planning to prepare banana blossom and hope to achieve something that tastes just like classic fish tacos or another seafood favorite, your final dish won’t have the taste you’re looking for. While this flower alternative can provide the right texture, it can’t deliver on flavor.
If you’re prepared to add your own flavor through spices, sauces, marinades and other ingredients, though, then banana blossom is worth trying. The lack of unique flavor works well if you want to incorporate powerful flavors or strong spices. And if you really just want to achieve the same texture of fish in dishes like fish tacos, battered fish sticks or fish in casseroles, it’s a plant-based alternative that works decently well.
How to find and use banana blossom
While banana blossom isn’t as fishy as a real piece of seafood, it does make for a pretty good vegan stand-in. You might not get the classic flavor of your favorite fish recipes, but you can enjoy something similar.
Want to give this plant-based swap a try yourself? It’s a little tricky to find at a grocery store near you. You’ll want to check Asian markets or specialty stores to find this not-yet-common ingredient. However, if you’re having trouble locating banana blossom in stores, it’s pretty easy to locate online. You can find canned options from retailers like Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods, and they’ll even deliver it.
Just keep in mind as you’re shopping for canned or prepackaged products that some can be high in sodium. This flower is typically packed in brine to keep it shelf-stable, and that can result in more sodium than you need or want.
Need more vegan-friendly alternatives and ideas? We’ve got a few you can try, including: