Banana flowers emerge as a large tapered cone from the center of the banana tree at the tip end of a forming bunch of bananas. They are red-orange to deep purple and consist of tightly compacted petals that house white tubular flowers within. The flower is starchy and slightly bitter, with more vegetal flavors, entirely different than the mature banana fruit.
Banana flowers are sporadically available year-round with a peak season of late fall through early winter.
Bananas flowers are of the Musa genus and considered a vegetable in many parts of the world, especially in Southeast Asia. The fruit itself is the 4th largest fruit crop of the world, following the grape, citrus fruits and the apple. The flower is an exotic ingredient that is prevalent in Thai cuisine.
Banana flowers are a good source of vitamins A and C.
To prepare the tender interior portion of the banana flower, simply peel away the dark outer husk. The younger blossoms are sweet and tender and may simply be sliced and eaten raw in salads. More mature blossoms are larger and best sautéed in a stir fry or simmered in a soup. Like artichokes and apples, banana flowers oxidize quickly when cut open and exposed to air. Place the sliced banana flower in a bowl of water with lemon juice to prevent browning. Banana flowers are best complimented by Asian cuisine, especially in Thai recipes.
In Thailand banana flower is almost always served raw on the side with pad thai. In Indonesian cuisine, banana flowers are mixed with pork and a hot sambal, cooked in a section of bamboo and served at their festivals or wakes.
The Banana itself is technically classified as a berry, and the tree a large herb. Bananas are native to the Indo-Malaysian region of the Pacific Ocean. They first came to Europe in the 10th century and later propagated in South America and Hawaii. Banana trees thrive in humid tropical regions with a mean temperature of 80°F (26.67°C) and mean rainfall of 4 in (10 cm) per month.