We Tried It: Banana Blossoms, the Plant-Based Fish Alternative
Jackfruit provided meatless pork to BBQ lovers everywhere. Now, banana blossoms are poised to do the same for fish fans.
I didn't know anything about banana blossoms until Upton's Naturals, a natural food company focused on meat alternatives, introduced them to their product line. They're the tear-shaped, reddish-purple flowers that grow at the base of a banana cluster, but they don't taste anything like bananas. The flowers have long been used in southeast Asian soups, stir-fries, and salads, but they've started gaining more traction for their uncanny resemblance to fish when battered and fried.
I wanted to know what the fuss was about, so I tried my hand at banana blossom "fish" and chips. The blossoms come in a vacuum-sealed pouch, and when I removed the brined flower, it looked like a little sea monster with its soft texture and beige-brown color. Once my overly-active imagination subsided, I could see it did actually look like a cross-section of an exotic flower. I prepared the blossom according to the recipe on the package (and here), first flavoring the flowers with lemon and salt (the recipe called for kelp powder but I didn't have any), then preparing the batter. Battering and frying went smoothly. It reminded me of frying zucchini blossoms.
Upon first bite, I really did feel like I was biting into a battered piece of fried fish. The blossom was both meaty and flaky; though not especially cod-like, in my opinion, it did remind me of an oilier, darker-fleshed fish. The leafier parts of the blossom were more stringy, with some bites requiring extended chewing to extract the flavor. It reminded me of eating an artichoke, with tough leaves at the tip and a soft, delicious heart—with a much milder flavor. When I took a taste from the non-leafy end, it was a joy to eat. The blossom picked up on the marinade well. I got a nice taste of zingy lemon, and I could see how kelp powder would have added a nice briny flavor.
If given to me randomly, I don't think I would mistake the fried banana blossom for fish, but it was definitely a nice deep-fried non-meat item.
Because I was now super curious about this new-to-me food, I prepared it two more ways: Air fried and lightly sautéed in a salad. I love my air-fryer for making veggies, meats, and frozen food, but I'm actually not a fan of using it to recreate fried foods. After consulting with the folks at Upton, who suggested I modify the batter so it's not too wet for the air fryer, I eliminated the flour step and sparkling water from the batter, just using seasoned panko as the "batter." It cooked nicely but had that "imitation fried" feel that I personally don't love. Ultimately, I don't think the blossom wore its fish disguise as well in this preparation, but it was still a tasty snack, and if you like food prepared in this manner, it definitely works.
Lastly, I sliced up a blossom, lightly sautéed it in olive oil and use it (along with some raw blossom slices) to top a simple salad with lime dressing. It was delicious with the lime dressing—banana blossoms love citrus. It reminded even more of an artichoke when minimally prepared like this.
Banana blossoms are great as a stand-in for fried fish (vegan fish tacos have been instantly upgraded!), but they are not a substitute for protein. Rather, they are rich in potassium, fiber, vitamins A, C, E, and minerals. They also provide amino acids, magnesium, and antioxidants to fight free radicals. Just about anyone can eat them, too, as they're Kosher, organic, sugar-free, cholesterol free, gluten-free, and soy-free. I'm excited to try more recipes with them outside of the fried realm, as I'm always looking for ways to mix up some plant-based dishes. Visit uptonsnaturals.com to order them online or find a retail store.