Meet Banana Blossoms: The Flaky, Plant-Based, Genius Swap for Fish

Forget the fish—flaky, tasty banana blossoms are the new star of taco night.

It's no secret that plant-based alternatives to meat products are on the rise. Whether for environmental or personal health reasons, going without (or with less) meat can be an effective way to make healthy changes in your lifestyle.

While we've seen some pretty close replicas of burgers and barbecued meat dishes, there hasn't been a good plant-based pick for the unmistakable texture and feel of seafood—until now. As it turns out, the perfect replacement for flaky, fresh seafood grows on trees and is a by-product of banana production.

It's true! If you're looking for the next innovative, plant-based swap to fish and seafood, get ready to meet the mighty banana blossom.

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Banana Blossom Basics

Banana blossoms can be found wherever bananas are grown, but they most typically pop up in the food cultures of Southeast Asia and India. "Banana blossoms are eaten both raw and cooked in dishes where the texture of a blossom is used to resemble fish or a meat, such as salad, stir-fry, or curry," says Kylie Bentley, RDN, LDN, CLT and team leader of nutrition and labeling compliance at Whole Foods Market.

If you're totally confused by this part of the banana, you're not alone. Banana blossoms have been incorporated into Southeast Asian and Indian cultures for a long time, but until very recently, they were only found in the U.S. in Asian markets. That's all changing as major retailers like Whole Foods are starting to carry packaged and canned banana blossom options.

Banana blossoms have tightly packed petals in a tear-shaped formation and, when quartered, resemble artichoke hearts in appearance. But they have a neutral taste profile. In short, they're nothing like a banana and can taste like whatever you choose to season them with (similar to a jackfruit).

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Banana Blossoms Mimic the Flaky Texture of Fish

Banana blossoms made the list of Whole Foods' 5 top plant-based trend predictions for summer, and you can expect to see this flaky flower popping up on menus all over. Why is the banana blossom poised to become the next big thing?

"Banana blossoms are often used to emulate the flaky texture of seafood, so they act as a great plant-based alternative to fish-forward meals," Bentley says. While more Americans are choosing to eat fewer animal-based products than ever, that doesn't mean they're ready to give up the best parts of their favorite foods. As a result, plant-based alternatives have become increasingly popular.

That said, most options on the market tend to mimic land-based meats like ground beef, pulled pork, and chicken. Banana blossoms fill a gap in the market by flaking just like fresh fish when cooked, offering a neutral, subtle flavor profile similar to a white fish. They are also ready to take on whatever marinade or spices you use to prepare them with.

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Banana Blossom Nutritional Benefits

The banana blossom is also a star from a nutritional standpoint. "Banana blossoms are a great option for those looking to keep the center of the plate low in calories, fat, sodium, and cholesterol," says Bentley. "At the same time, one serving provides a good source of fiber and essential antioxidants."

Because banana blossoms are so low in calories, they're not a great source of protein and healthy fats. So if you're eating them as your main course, you'll need to include enough other foods on your plate to reach your nutritional goals. Adding other plant-based protein and fiber-fueled options to the menu is always a smart idea.

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How to Eat Banana Blossoms

The neutral taste and flaky texture of banana blossoms make them super-adaptable as a cooking ingredient. "Traditionally, banana blossoms have been used in Southeast Asian and Indian cuisine primarily in soups, salads, and stir-fries," says Bentley. "However, culinary opportunities are endless as people continue to experiment with them."

She recommends slicing the blossoms up and adding them to salads; cooking and then using them in fish tacos or fish burgers; battering to make a non-traditional "fish" and chips; or flaking and combining with your favorite add-ins as a replacement in tuna sandwiches.

You can also substitute the protein in a Thai salad or soup with banana blossoms for a tasty and plant-based twist, or use them in fish tacos for a Taco Tuesday that leaves everyone from vegans to omnivores satisfied. If you're going for that authentic fishy flavor, try adding kelp powder to the banana blossoms while cooking.

In the U.S., it's common to find banana blossoms in brine. If you come across them fresh, you can eat them raw or cook them from scratch like any other vegetable. Just remove the tougher, exterior petals until you reach the tender, light-colored leaves and heart.

Similarly to the banana fruit, the blossom will start to turn brown after it's been exposed to air, so wait until you're ready to start cooking before you peel and slice.

RELATED: Plant-Based Meat Alternatives: A Breakdown of the Differences Between the Most Popular Options

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