The Washington Post

The special ingredient for these vegan treats is prized by Brazil’s fitness fans

- BY EMILY CODIK

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 São Paulo, created several lines of products with the puree, including chocolate spreads, pâtés 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.

In the Dominican Republic, I grew up eating unripe bananas boiled or mashed and served with sauteed onions on top. When I moved to Ipanema, the beachfront Rio de Janeiro neighborho­od, I wandered through healthfood stores and immersed myself in a subculture lauding the benefits of eggplant flour (“helps with weight loss”), passion fruit flour (also “helps with weight loss”) and whey protein (“builds muscle”). Rows and rows of whey protein.

It was there, alongside the quinoa and chia seeds, that I saw the green bananas of my childhood marketed as a superfood. I’ve since learned green bananas have been a health fad here for years.

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 São 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 guthealth booster for pregnant women and to help those with gestationa­l diabetes prevent spikes in blood sugar, for example.

I follow a plant-based diet, and I often get hungry shortly after meals. I wondered if this could help.

“Try having a tablespoon at lunch and at dinner,” Tatiana Zanin, a nutritioni­st from São Paulo state who lives in Portugal, told me, suggesting I stir it into my meals. “In three to five days, you’ll notice a difference.”

Challenge accepted. Because eating raw unripe banana is about as enjoyable as chewing on raw potato, I set out to make the puree and answer two basic questions: Does it taste good in recipes? And does it actually make me feel different?

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 São 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.

I bought a pound of the bananas at the organic farmers market, boiled them whole, peeled them and blended the hot flesh with water. Though recipes here often call for cooking the bananas in a pressure cooker, boiling them in a regular pot worked just the same. Still warm, the puree was thick and pourable. Chilled, it firmed into a gelatinous paste.

It kept 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 was indeed neutral, with a hint of plantain at the end. For weeks, I whisked it into salad dressings, melted it into stir-fries and stirred it into stews. I served it to my unknowing husband and friends. (They’ll thank me later.)

More than 4 pounds of green banana into my journey, I was impressed by the puree’s satiating power. Adding a cube to my morning smoothie kept me full for one or two hours longer than usual. When I mixed it into soup or beans, I felt the same way.

But when I tried using it as a base for recipes, I struggled with its gloopy texture and ended up with an unappetizi­ng mushroom stew and underbaked cakes. Flavia Manchioni, a health coach and influencer from Curitiba, suggested I use the puree to make sweet mousses and savory dips instead.

“Those are the most practical ways to use it,” she said. “You’ll be able to include it in your day-today.”

I tried a simple dessert of green-banana puree blended with cacao, soaked cashews and muscovado sugar. Topped with mango, papaya and coconut flakes, it was a gorgeous dairyfree mousse that I’ ll make again soon.

I whipped the puree with garlic and paprika for a vegan spread with the texture of mayonnaise, perfect for slathering on bread. I made no-bake peanut butter balls, great with coffee. I baked chewy oat-flour brownies, also great with coffee.

It wasn’t a life-changing few weeks. But having a batch of green bananas on hand means I can easily make more filling meals, as well as vegan snacks and treats. And that certainly makes it a superfood to me.

emily.codik@washpost.com

 ??  ?? CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: Chewy Vegan Brownies; Green Banana Cashew Sauce; green bananas.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: Chewy Vegan Brownies; Green Banana Cashew Sauce; green bananas.
 ?? PHOTOS BY LAURA CHASE DE FORMIGNY FOR THE WASHINGTON POST; FOOD STYLING BY LISA CHERKASKY FOR THE WASHINGTON POST ??
PHOTOS BY LAURA CHASE DE FORMIGNY FOR THE WASHINGTON POST; FOOD STYLING BY LISA CHERKASKY FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

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