Wonders of Banana Leaves

The tradition of eating food on banana leaves is not only a treat to the eyes but to the palate as well. So the next time someone offers you a meal on a banana leaf, roll up your sleeves and dig right in!

BySanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh

Updated 9 Dec 2023, 2:58 am

Representational Image (PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons)
Representational Image (PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons)

Banana leaves are a popular ingredient in many parts of the world. They have been used for centuries to wrap and cook food, as well as for decoration and ceremonial purposes. Banana leaves are long, broad, and smooth green leaves that grow on the trunk of the banana tree. They are dark green with a glossy surface and have no petioles or stems attached to them. Banana leaves typically measure between two to three feet long and one to two feet wide at their widest point. The edges of the leaf are often serrated or jagged.

Banana leaves have a distinct aroma and taste, often earthy, sweet, or nutty. Regarding availability, banana leaves can be found widely throughout tropical regions where bananas grow year-round. In more temperate climates like India or Africa that experience seasonal rains, however, banana trees may not produce fruit for certain periods throughout the year; consequently, the availability of fresh banana leaves will vary with the seasons.

Regarding storage, banana leaves can be kept fresh in a cool and dry place for up to two weeks. They can also be dried and frozen for up to six months for longer-term storage. When using dried leaves, just be sure to soak them overnight in water before using them as wrapping or serving material; this will help rehydrate the leaves and ensure they are pliable enough for use.

Banana leaves come in two main varieties: edible and decorative banana leaves. Edible banana leaves are typically harvested when young before they become overly tough or fibrous. These banana leaves can be used for cooking, steaming rice dishes, wrapping and rolling food items such as dumplings, tamales, and burritos, and creating desserts. Decorative banana leaves are larger than edible varieties and have been treated to make them stronger for more decorative purposes. Decorative banana leaves typically come in two colors, green and pink.

Banana leaves are an excellent source of fiber, containing both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber helps to reduce cholesterol levels, while insoluble fiber helps with digestion and maintaining regular bowel movements. Banana leaves also contain essential vitamins such as vitamins A, B6, C, E, and K and important minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron. Banana leaves contain large amounts of polyphenols that are natural antioxidants. These are found in many plant-based foods and green tea.


Food served on the banana leaves absorbs the polyphenols which are said to prevent many lifestyle diseases. They are also said to have antibacterial properties that can possibly kill the germs in food. They also provide protein which can help to support healthy muscle growth and maintenance. The health benefits of banana leaves are numerous. They are known to help with digestive issues such as constipation, diarrhea, and bloating. As high-fiber food, they can also aid in weight loss efforts. Additionally, the antioxidants in banana leaves may help protect against certain types of cancer. The vitamins and minerals in banana leaves can boost immunity, reduce inflammation and provide energy throughout the day. Finally, banana leaves’ potassium content helps regulate blood pressure and maintain healthy heart function.

Banana leaves can be used for cooking or wrapping food, often imparting a subtly sweet flavor to dishes. The leaves are also commonly used for serving meals at special occasions such as weddings and religious ceremonies. When steamed or boiled, they become pliable enough to form into cups or wrappers containing various foods such as rice, meats, vegetables, fruits, and desserts.

Banana leaves can also make eco-friendly, compostable plates and bowls. The leaves are usually cut into circles or rectangles, folded in half, and stitched with a needle and thread. These dishes are biodegradable and come in many shapes and sizes. Banana leaves can also be used as a natural food wrapper or cover for steaming foods, leading to tender textures and preserving moisture. Additionally, they provide insulation from heat during cooking. Banana leaves have antibacterial properties that help protect food from spoilage, so meat dishes should be wrapped in them before cooking. It is always a good idea to eat on banana leaves as it is certainly more hygienic when compared to other utensils.

Normal utensils have to be washed using soap and there are chances that traces of soap may still remain on the utensils even after washing. Those traces might end up contaminating your food. Banana leaves have a wax-like coating that prevents dirt and dust from sticking on the surface of leaves. It also adds subtle and earthy flavors to the dishes that are served on the leaves. The tradition of eating food on banana leaves is not only a treat to the eyes but to the palate as well. So the next time someone offers you a meal on a banana leaf, roll up your sleeves and dig right in!

Banana leaves contain vitamins A, C, and B6 and minerals like magnesium and potassium. In addition, they are a great source of dietary fiber that can aid digestion. Using banana leaves for cooking is an eco-friendly alternative to plastic wrap or aluminum foil. The leaves are biodegradable, meaning they will decompose quickly without creating environmental pollution.


Furthermore, banana leaves have been shown to reduce fuel use during cooking since their heat retention properties allow food to cook faster with less energy expenditure. When purchasing banana leaves, look for those that are bright green in color and free of holes or tears. Before using them, rinse any dust or dirt and gently wipe each leaf with a damp cloth.

Banana leaves can be cooked, steamed, or boiled to make them pliable and remove some bitterness. Place the leaves in a steamer basket over boiling water to steam them. Cook for five minutes until they are soft and flexible. Boiling banana leaves is another option – add the leaves to boiling water and cook for 10 minutes before draining off the liquid. Having food on banana leaves is one of the most economical and inexpensive options to go for. You don't need to worry about spending those extra bucks on tons of utensils. Just grab a few banana leaves from the banana tree and you're done for the day. Just rinse the leaves with water and get going.

India has a long-standing tradition of serving food on banana leaves especially in places down south, even in Manipur too. It is widely used in many religious and ceremonial purposes in different form in Manipur society. Eating food on banana leaves is considered quite healthy and auspicious. Most people use banana leaves to serve an authentic south Indian spread on festivals and family get-togethers. They are also considered quite sacred and are often used for offering Prasad to the deities. These thick leaves are big enough to serve a multi-course meal ranging from Sāmbhar to chutneys. You can also cut these leaves in different sizes and place them on a platter of any size. 

Onam Sadhya looks quite appealing to the eyes partly because it is served on these pretty leaves. Banana leaves are loaded with nutrients we bet you didn't know about. Food, when served on banana leaves, gets enriched with several nutrients that we would otherwise miss.In India, banana leaves are used as plates during festivals and ceremonies such as weddings. A traditional Indian meal includes several dishes served on a banana leaf along with pickles and curries. People take great care to ensure that each item is placed strategically according to its taste profile (from sweetest to spiciest). In Hindu tradition, offerings to the gods and goddesses are made on banana leaves. This is believed to bring good luck and prosperity.

Banana leaves are an excellent ingredient that offers many uses and benefits. They impart a subtle flavor to dishes, but using them for cooking is also eco-friendly as they decompose quickly without creating environmental pollution. Additionally, banana leaves contain vitamins and minerals that can benefit our health. The next time you’re looking for an alternative to plastic wrap or aluminum foil, consider using banana leaves to get the best of both worlds.


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Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh

Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh

Assistant Professor, JCRE Global College, Babupara, Imphal. The writer can be reached at sjugeshwor7@gmail.com


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