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Enset or false Banana: the sustainable super food



It is a crop very similar to the banana, consumed almost exclusively in Ethiopia, and which is little known or even completely unknown outside the country's borders. Enset is a plant that is part of the Musaceae family, also known as false banana or pseudo-banana. Despite its similarity to the latter, this plant is not grown for its fruits and flowers but for the roots and the pulp contained in the pseudostem. It represents a notable source of livelihood and one of the most important food crops in Ethiopia.

It is a leafy plant, with a height ranging from six to twelve meters and a false stem (or pseudo stem) formed by the bases of the leaves. The large leaves grow in a spiral; each reaches six meters in length and one meter in width. The leaves are green with a pink or reddish central vein and a small red petiole. Unlike bananas grown mainly for their fruit, and despite sharing some of their appearance and some beneficial properties, Enset is therefore cultivated to produce edible products, following fermentation of parts of the vegetative body and not of the fruit.

Enset: a new super food

Enset, or fake banana, plants are divided into two types: “soft” and “hard”. The first is used as a “reserve food”, since to make it edible it requires less preparation time, and therefore fermentation, than hard plants. Fresh or dried leaves – called hocho and hashupha respectively – are also fermented. Not only that, the leaves are also used as a container for serving food, as happens with the banana tree, it is for storing food.

It is a very ancient domestic cultivation in Africa. Already in the Neolithic or even in previous eras, it was present in the diet of the Gedeo populations. In this particular culture, enset leaves even have a symbolic religious value, and accompany birth ceremonies and weddings. According to some scientists, this food grown in a sustainable way, and only in a defined area of ​​Ethiopia, will be included among the new superfood. Local production could even feed more than 100 million people in the near future.

Enset: the sustainable fake banana

He's called “tree against hunger” because growing it is really easy, and its potential to feed millions of people is realistic. The plant tolerates extreme climatic conditions, even prolonged drought. It also stabilizes the soil and it is possible to harvest its roots all year round for several years. As we have said, only the starchy roots of the enset are eaten, consequently the availability of this precious food is constant.

Enset has always been cultivated in the south-west of Ethiopia, only by local populations, in a small area. If these crops were to expand, also taking advantage of more favorable weather conditions, this plant could feed more than 100 million people in the next half century, without impacting the environment or burdening the ecosystem. A fundamental resource for the sub-Saharan populations who, relying on the very scarce rainwater for crops, would therefore have a precious food to counteract the constant food shortage that afflicts them.

Properties of the Enset or fake banana

Enset is a particularly rich food starch, in Ethiopia, it is essentially consumed as a substitute for bread, pasta and potatoes due to its high satiating power. In fact, there are many ways in which it can be cooked. It is a very nutritious food with numerous beneficial properties. Effective against intestinal inflammation, it is also a good resource from a vitamin point of view (A, B, C) and for its fiber content.

Among the known beneficial properties, we mention:

Uses in the kitchen

Enset is usually used after the fermentation process of the leaves and the “pulp” enclosed in the pseudostem. It is used in bread dough, in the preparation of a sort of porridge. A flour is also obtained from this type of banana: the plant is squeezed to eliminate excess liquid and cut until a sort of coarse flour is obtained which is then baked in the oven in terracotta pans. Enset flour is the basis of several Ethiopian dishes, including: quncissa, diboo, kebbo, hocoqo, wodhamo, koofoo, xaltta, oxa, lila and culuqo, which are usually served with kale or meat.

A special dish, bu'la, is served during ceremonies and festive occasions, with butter, legumes and roast meats. It is flower powder and shredded pseudostem of enset, unfermented.

Sustainable foods are essential to combat global warming, a real emergency.

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