Alternative flours made from nuts, rice, coconuts, and tapioca are experiencing the strongest growth in a U.S. gluten-free flour market that grew by 10.8% in the last year, reaching $126 million as of May, according to SPINS (Schaumburg, IL). But banana flour, a newcomer to the U.S. market, may have what it takes to rise, brown, and bake with the best of them.
“Bananas pretty much speak for themselves in the world of nutrition,” says David Wintzer, co-creator, WEDO (Park City, UT). WEDO first began selling green banana flour last year after a successful Kickstarter launch in February 2014 and is the first U.S.-based supplier of banana flour, says Wintzer.
Widespread knowledge of banana’s nutrition may be what hooks consumer interest, but pleasant taste, formulation ease, and environmental sustainability are a few reasons why this new gluten-free flour could be here to stay.
There has to be one question that comes first with an alternative flour: how does it compare to wheat in formulations?
“Green banana flour, in high-standard form, bakes incredibly well and is a very rare gluten-free flour that can rise and remain, as it is starch-based,” says Krista Watkins operations manager at Natural Evolution Foods (Australia). Natural Evolution Foods has been selling banana flour for the past five years within Australia, and in May the company began selling to North America over the Internet.
Watkins says banana flour does differ from wheat flour with its “wholesome earthy flavor” and slightly darker coloring when cooked, and, as with many gluten-free flours, a binding agent may be necessary in certain formulations.
“When making dough recipes such as pasta, pizza bases, or pastries, we recommend using xanthan gum [as a binder],” says Watkins. “However, we have made many different loaves of bread without xanthan gum and have found chia seeds and eggs work well as binding agents also.”
It also takes less banana flour to achieve a similar effect as wheat in formulations. Sometimes just two-thirds as much flour will do the trick, according to WEDO’s Wintzer.
“If you go cup for cup with our flour, you will end up with a hockey puck,” says Wintzer.
As for potential health benefits, many consumers know that bananas are a good source of potassium, fiber, and other essential vitamins and minerals. But green banana flour from both WEDO and Natural Evolution Foods also boasts a high content of resistant starch, which has been shown in several studies to have prebiotic properties. The only drawback is that resistant starch may lose its nutritional value if the flour is baked, so the starch appeal could only apply to smoothies or other raw products, says Wintzer.
Natural Evolution Foods began selling banana flour to North America in May. Photo from Natural Evolution Foods.
The Most Sustainable Flour?
Unripe green bananas are ideal for flour because of their high starch content, but they are also “green” in terms of being sustainable. Both WEDO and Natural Evolution Foods use bananas that farmers would normally discard because they are abnormal in size or shape, but are otherwise perfectly fine.
Banana flour is currently slightly more expensive than many other gluten-free flours on the market, but that could change as companies find more efficient ways to produce the flour without sacrificing nutritional value. WEDO currently blanches its bananas to make peeling easier, while Natural Evolution uses a cold-fused process that it says preserves the fruit’s nutrition better than boiling. But WEDO’s Wintzer says boiling isn’t the issue; it’s drying the bananas without cooking away the resistant starch that’s the real challenge.
Banana flour may be new to the market, but its strong profile shows that this gluten-free flour isn’t monkeying around.