food-bananas

Chewy Vegan Brownies. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Laura Chase de Formigny for The Washington Post.

RIO DE JANEIRO — Bananas, as common as they are, often get treated as an afterthought, especially when they’re unripe — but not in Brazil.

The bright green fruit, once boiled and blended, turns into biomassa de banana verde: a green-banana puree beloved by fitness fans and used as the main ingredient in sauces, breads, pastas, jams and even powdered milk.

La Pianezza, a food company based in Sao Paulo, created several lines of products with the puree, including chocolate spreads, patés and tomato sauces. In articles, TikToks, Instagram posts and YouTube videos, people here gush about how to make it at home and extol its health benefits.

Prized for its neutral flavor, the puree is used by home cooks to make lighter versions of recipes such as brigadeiros, the beloved Brazilian treat traditionally made with condensed milk. It’s also added as a supplement to meals, either using the puree or a green-banana flour that can be blended into smoothies and sprinkled on top of fruit.

Still, it’s not a mainstream staple. “A lot of people know about biomassa, but it isn’t that common,” said Renata Alves, a nutritionist focused on maternal and child health in Sao Paulo. “In the fitness and even weight-loss world, you’ll see that here in Brazil — it’s more used for that.”

Green bananas are a source of resistant starch, meaning they feed the good bacteria in our gut, helping to alleviate digestive issues, lower cholesterol and boost your mood, nutritionists say. Because they’re so filling, they can aid in weight loss, too.

In Alves’s practice, she recommends green bananas as a gut-health booster for pregnant women and to help those with gestational diabetes prevent spikes in blood sugar, for example.

The first step: Picking the right bananas.

Green bananas aren’t the same as green plantains. “The regular banana that you peel and eat is the best one to make biomassa,” said Bela Gil, a plant-based chef and television host focused on nutrition in Sao Paulo.

The fresher and greener, the better. If the bananas have a yellow tinge, they’ll have a slightly sweet flavor. It also means the starches have started turning into sugars.

Though recipes here often call for cooking the bananas in a pressure cooker, boiling them in a regular pot works just the same. Still warm, the puree is thick and pourable. Chilled, it firms into a gelatinous paste.

It keeps fresh for about a week when refrigerated in an airtight container and for a month when frozen in ice-cube trays to use in smoothies.

Its flavor is indeed neutral, with a hint of plantain at the end.

Green Banana Cashew Sauce

Total time: 1 hour plus 2 hours of soaking time

Servings: 8

This creamy sauce looks like it has mayo in it, but the base ingredient is actually a green-banana puree. In Brazil, the neutral-flavored puree is marketed as a superfood and used to make dairy-free desserts, such as mousse and cakes, as well as creamy spreads, such as patés and cream cheese. Blended with cashews and tomato paste, the puree turns into a versatile sauce. Straight out of the blender, the loose version can be drizzled atop roasted vegetables or used as a salad dressing. Refrigerated, it turns into a thick paste, ideal as a spread for sandwiches or wraps.

The cashews must be soaked for two hours before making the sauce. If treating this sauce as a dip, it needs to be refrigerated for four hours before serving to thicken.

INGREDIENTS

For the puree:

1 pound unripe, very green bananas in their peel (about 3 bananas)

1 cup water, plus more as needed

For the sauce:

½ cup (2 ounces) raw cashews, soaked in warm water for 2 hours, rinsed and drained

½ cup room-temperature water

1 cup (8¼ ounces) green banana puree

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon tomato paste, preferably double-concentrated

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, or more to taste

1 large clove garlic, peeled

½ teaspoon smoked paprika, or more to taste

¼ teaspoon ground cumin, or more to taste

½ teaspoon fine sea or table salt, or more to taste

STEPS

Make the green banana puree: In a medium pot, cover the bananas with water to submerge them; the bananas will bob up and down. Set the pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat so the water is at a simmer, and cook, uncovered, until the bananas soften, 35 to 40 minutes. While the bananas are still warm, peel them and transfer the flesh to a blender and add 1 cup of water. Blend until creamy. Transfer the puree to an airtight container and refrigerate until needed. You should get about 2½ cups. The banana puree can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to one week.

Make the green banana-cashew sauce: In a blender, combine the cashews, water, 1 cup of the green banana puree, olive oil, tomato paste, lime juice, garlic, paprika, cumin and salt, and blend until creamy, about one minute. Taste, and season with additional lime juice, paprika, salt and/or cumin, if desired.

If using as a sauce, serve immediately drizzled on top of vegetables, grains or beans. To thicken it into a spread or dip, transfer the sauce into an airtight container and refrigerate for about four hours, or until it is the texture of mayonnaise. Serve with crackers, toast or vegetables, or as a spread in sandwiches or wraps. The sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to three days. It will thicken as it chills. To loosen, add a splash of water until the desired consistency is achieved.

Nutrition per serving (½ cup) | Calories: 93; Total Fat: 7 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 120 mg; Carbohydrates: 8 g; Dietary Fiber: 1 g; Sugar: 3 g; Protein: 2 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.

Chewy Vegan Brownies

Total time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Servings: 16

These vegan brownies are made with a secret ingredient: green-banana puree. Considered a superfood among Brazil’s health-conscious crowd, the puree is neutral in flavor, making it a handy ingredient when making dairy-free recipes. In this dessert, it’s paired with oat flour and cacao to make rich, chewy brownies without eggs or butter. Try eating them cold from the refrigerator.

The banana puree needs to be made at least two hours in advance of making the brownies.

INGREDIENTS

For the green banana puree:

1 pound unripe, very green bananas, unpeeled (about 3 bananas)

Water, as needed

For the brownies:

2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted, plus more for greasing the pan

3 tablespoons flaxseed meal

6 tablespoons water

1½ cups green banana puree, at room temperature

1 cup oat flour

¾ cup unsweetened cacao powder

¾ cup muscovado sugar or ²/3 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon fine sea or table salt

¼ cup unsweetened coarsely shredded coconut, for topping

STEPS

Make the green banana puree: In a medium pot cover the bananas with water to submerge them; the bananas will bob up and down. Set the pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat so the water is at a simmer, and cook, uncovered, until the bananas soften, 35 to 40 minutes. While the bananas are still warm, peel them and transfer the flesh to a blender along with 1 cup of water. Blend until creamy. Transfer the puree to an airtight container and refrigerate at least two hours, or until needed. The banana puree can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to one week. You should get about 2½ cups.

Make the brownies: Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch square pan with the coconut oil, and line it with a piece of parchment paper long enough to have overhang on two sides.

In a large bowl, stir the flaxseed meal and water until combined, and set aside until thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the 1½ cups of banana puree, flour, cacao, sugar, baking powder, salt and the 2 tablespoons of coconut oil until combined. Transfer the batter to the baking pan and use a small offset spatula to smooth the top of the batter. Sprinkle with the shredded coconut. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the brownies are firm at the edges and have begun to set in the center.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool thoroughly, about four hours; the brownies will continue to set as they cool. Cut into 16 pieces and serve. For firmer brownies, refrigerate for a few hours. The brownies can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to five days.

Nutrition per serving (1 brownie) | Calories: 117; Total Fat: 5 g; Saturated Fat: 3 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 83 mg; Carbohydrates: 19 g; Dietary Fiber: 3 g; Sugar: 11 g; Protein: 2 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.