When you walk through the streets of Pattaya or Bangkok and the aroma of Thai food grips you, you know you’ve entered food paradise. In Thailand, cafés lined across streets serving authentic Thai food and food stalls that are busy cooking on the road side, have one thing in common - they all use banana leaf abundantly right from cooking the food to wrapping delectable treats of the Thai cuisine. Banana leaf can even be found in Thai supermarkets as the leaf has multi-purpose benefits when used to cook food. 

This environmental friendly and versatile banana leaf can be found being used at multiple places right from cooking fish to wrapping sticky white rice for take-away. There are containers that are made creatively using sticks, tooth picks and banana leaves. These containers are even used to pack thick sauces of Thai dishes. It’s natural to wonder why this material has become so popular and integral to the Thai people over time. What is the real significance of using banana leaves in Thai cuisine?  

1) Banana leaves ensure the meat doesn’t get burnt off 

A lot of Thai delicacies need to be cooked on a high flame but are tender on touch to fire. They are thus wrapped in the banana leaf which acts as an exterior layer, protecting the food (mostly fish) from getting burnt on an open flame. The banana leaves also prevent the food to stick on the grill, thereby keeping tender meet intact. Banana leaves are often used to wrap ingredients before they are steamed or cook, such as fish, sticky rice, fruits and even banana leaf wrapped desserts. Savoury and sweet dishes steamed in banana leaves include Khao Dome (Coconut Sticky Rice) and Aeb, a Northern Thai-style of cooking fish meat in which the food is wrapped in banana leaves and roasted on a charcoal fire. Even if the banana leaf gets burnt during the process of cooking, the smoky flavour gets juiced in to the meat wrapped within, without there being a problem of char. 

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2) The leaves impart an aromatic taste to the dish 

Banana leaves are used in Thai cuisine for the taste that they impart to the dishes that are cooked wrapped in them. The banana leaf adds a nice sweet and smoky roasted flavor, to the dish and thus acts as an ingredient. The packet of banana leaves is also helpful in holding all the juices and oils of the meat like the fish, thereby allowing the fish to simmer in its juices. The banana leaf provides a unique herbaceous flavor. These fresh, green leaves lend an aromatic and sweetish flavour to the final dish. For some dishes, banana leaves are conducive to aerobic fermentation. They allow air exchange while protecting the food and letting fermentation occur naturally. 

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3) The plant is rich in natural antioxidants

The banana leaf is rich in nutrients and anti-oxidants, and the Thai people feel that this gives the dish a health factor. Even though you can't eat the leaf, the antioxidants get absorbed into food during cooking. The Thai people prefer using organic banana leaves for cooking as they feel that the benefits of organic leaves are much more in terms of containing nourishing nutrients and antioxidants. According to old Thai chefs, the banana leaf found place in the Thai kitchen because the leaves have peculiar anti-bacterial property that can kill germs in the food cooked in them and can also aid in proper digestion.

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4) Packaging, plating and visual appeal 

The environmental friendly banana leaf lasts a long time in the refrigerator and freezes very well and is a great substitute to plastic. Plastics contain certain radicals that are dangerous to health. Thai people revere nature and the use of banana leaves as a wrapping material, mirrors this belief. Also, banana leaves can be used in simple ways to serve spreads of Thai food. Their lush green colour makes great contrast with the brightly coloured fish, curries and rice. Serving dishes on the banana leaf boosts their visual appeal and the Thai people believe that a dish must look as appetising as it tastes. Some of the popular Thai appetisers served on banana leaves include Tod Man Khao Pod, Gai Satae and Kung Sarong

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