Food

Banana flour: Karnataka women’s novel idea to avoid wastage

It is a healthier alternative to replace refined flours and can provide nutrition as well as livelihoods

 
By Vibha Varshney
Published: Tuesday 10 August 2021
How Karnataka made homemade banana flour popular in India. Photo: Adike Patrike Collection

A handful of farmers and homemakers in Karnataka used social media and other online platforms to popularise banana flour in India. 

Banana flour is a highly nutritious and gluten-free alternative to wheat flour. The easy availability of the fruit makes the production commercially viable. 

Around 29.7 million metric tonnes of the fruit is produced in India every year. But out of this, half a million metric tonnes is lost as the fruit is perishable. 

Small farmers in the villages who sell their produce locally often have to sell bananas at throwaway prices when the demand shrinks due to a variety of factors such as during the mango season.

But converting the surplus fruits into flour extends the shelf-life by around six months. It also help farmers circumvent distress sales, said Vasundhara Hegde of Manjushree Home Products in Sirsi, Karnataka who, along with her husband Prabhakara Hegde, who began making banana flour at home in the beginning of July. 

They sold 100 kg flour in the first fortnight by promoting their product online, through an online marketing platform Mahila Marukatte (women's market). “We are sending the product to urban areas where this is in demand among people who want to lose weight,” said Vasundhara Hegde.

Simple process

The bananas are peeled and soaked in buttermilk or diluted rice water with salt to prevent darkening. They are then sliced thinly and sun dried for around three days. Once the chips are dry, they can be turned into flour. 

The entire process can be done at home. In Karnataka, the flour is called bakahu.

The bananas are thinly sliced and dried in the sun for three days before being made into flour. Photo: Adike Patrike Collection

“Due to frequent market collapses, banana farmers are not able to sell all the produce and it has to be either fed to animals or given away for free,” said Shree Padre, editor, Adike Patrike, who is running a campaign to promote banana flour. 

Popularity soars

Padre posted a few lines about Jayambika, a homemaker from Thrissur who prepares this flour at home, in June. This inspired Nayana Anand, a homemaker from Tumkur in Karnataka. 

She used the flour in traditional recipes and shared photos, following which, several others picked up the trend.

Gulab jamun, thalipeeth, paratha, dosa, upma, noodles, cake, halwa, malt, kesari bhath, nippattu, chakkuli are just some of the dishes that can be prepared with banana flour.

They demonstrated that banana flour is versatile and should not be limited to baby food. 

“The women need to be saluted for the effort,” said Padre. In a bid to promote the flour, the women regularly hold cooking competitions; one is slated for August 11, 2021. 

Some women in the state started an enterprise to sell raw bananas processed at home. The work started in June and by the end of July, more than 60 families were involved. 

Sowkhya Mohan, 39, is one such woman from Puttur in Dakshina Kannada district. She and her friend Divya Anil, sold 12 kilograms of the flour in the very first week. The raw material came from Divya’s farm. 

High returns

The simple technology has astonished farmers. It doesn't require any new investment or skilled labour. The yield is high: Around 6-8 kg raw banana yields a kilogram of flour that fetches Rs 200. 

Banana flour is not a new concept but is usually sold as baby food at costs as high as Rs 700 for 500 gram.

Preparing banana flour has two major benefits. First, it provides a livelihood option. Farming families can produce the flour and sell to shops and industries nearby. It can help absorb market collapse.

According to Padre, banana flour could provide livelihood if there was awareness about three facts: 

  • The flour can be produced at home
  • Many dishes can be made from this flour
  • The flour has immense nutritive value (high in potassium, vitamin B6, vitamin C, magnesium, copper, manganese, fiber and protein).

The flour can also help prevent and alleviate symptoms of several diseases such as blood pressure, asthma and diabetes. It can easily replace refined flour. Its health benefits have made it popular outside India too.

Though bananas are available round the year, readymade flour is easier to use. As the bananas used are generally grown at home, they are usually grown without use of pesticides and chemicals. Hence, the flour is also chemical-free. 

There is more in banana's repertoire that can be explored. In January this year, scientists at the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research-National Institute for Interdisciplinary Science and Technology in Kerala launched a product called Banana Grit which resembles rava (sooji). This too can be used for preparing a wide range of dishes. 

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