A banana leaf is filled with antioxidants named polyphenol which can fight serious illnesses, mainly cancer. When hot food is served on the banana leaf, we get the polyphenols from leaf in our food. Banana leaves are also used in some ayurvedic medicinal preparations. Serving food on banana leaf is a tradition in several south Indian states. Guests are given the top part of the leaf while family members are given the lower parts. Everybody sits together on the floor and eats with their hands.
Why should food be eaten with hand? Scientifically, eating is purely a sensory experience and it is said to evoke emotions and passion. According to the Vedas, hands are the most precious organs of action. The scriptures reveal how every finger is an extension of the five elements. Through the thumb comes space, with the forefinger comes air, the middle finger is fire, the ring finer is water and the little finger represents earth. Hence, eating with our fingers stimulates these five elements and helps in bringing forth digestive juices in the stomach. The nerve endings on our fingertips stimulate digestion. While eating with fingers, the nerves give signalling the stomach that you are about to eat. You become more conscious of the taste, temperature of food, the texture and aromas.
Banana leaves are large in size: The banana leaf is large in size, therefore, it accommodates variety of food preparations; rice, chapattis, meat, vegetables, lentils, curries and pickles. The leaves are basically waterproof; because of their waxy coating they can hold gravy preparations without getting soggy.
Food tastes good: They add aroma to food that is cooked in or served on them; when foods are steamed with banana leaves imparts a subtle sweet flavour and aroma to the dish. Banana leaves have a waxy coating that has a subtle and distinct flavour. When hot food is placed on the leaves, the edible wax melts and lends its flavour to the food, making it taste better.
Eco-friendly usage: After eating on the leaf, it can be easily discarded; they decompose in a very short time, unlike plastic, which takes hundreds of years to biodegrade.
Hygienic: Banana leaves van be cleaned easily; they just need to be rinsed with a little water and they are ready to use. If you are eating at a place where the hygiene standards are questionable, you are much better off eating from a banana leaf than from a plate that has not been cleansed suitably. Because of its anti-bacterial Ayurvedic properties, if any germs are present in the food, they get automatically killed, thereby reducing the chances of you falling sick.
Chemical-free: Most of us wash plates soap, liquid washing solutions and water, traces of the chemicals in the soap cannot be rinsed completely, which contaminates the food served in it. Whereas, banana leaves just need to be rinsed with a little water, and do not need to be washed with soap, so your food will be chemical-free.
Integral part of many cultures: The banana tree remains eternally green, thereby signifying endless generations. Banana leaves are therefore used by Hindus and Buddhists as a decorative element for auspicious functions, marriages, and ceremonies in southern India and Southeast India. Balinese Hindus prepare banana leaf as the container for floral offerings called canang dedicated for deities and gods. These floral offerings are placed in various places around the house.
In Indonesia, banana leaf is widely used in their cuisine called pepes and botok; the banana-leaf packets of food are steamed, boiled, or grilled on charcoal. Banana leaves are also used to wrap several kinds of snacks. In Java, banana leaf is also used as a shallow conical bowl called “pincuk”, usually to serve rujak, tumbuk, pecel.
In Malaysian and Singapore cuisine, banana leaves are used to wrap certain dishes called kuih and otak-otak. Malay foods such as nasi-lemak are also commonly wrapped with banana leaves before being wrapped with newspaper, as banana leaves add fragrance to the rice.
Banana leaves are the traditional method of serving food even in Philippine cuisine , with rice and other dishes laid out on large banana leaves similar to buffet and everyone partaking using their bare hands. This is called Kamayan.
The Hawaiians use banana leaves in few of their dishes too. It’s used even in Caribbean, Central American and Mexican cuisines.
In Thailand, banana leaf is used to create an offering bowl called Krathong, it is an important element during traditional festival of Loy Krathong day. Thai people will celebrate this on the full-moon day of the twelfth lunar month. The celebration was meant to pay respect to the Mother of Water called Phra Mae Kong Kha by floating a krathong on a body of water. Other Asian countries also shares this similar festival such as; Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, India and China. Krathong means lotus-shaped vessel like a leave bowl made of banana leaves and flowers with joss sticks and a candle in the middle of it. This is how banana leaves are used and valued globally.