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Green bananas don't always need to ripen. Puree them into brownies, mousse and more.

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.

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 health-food 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 bananas as a health food have been a 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 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.

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 Sao 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 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.

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 to day."

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 dairy-free 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.

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Green Banana Cashew Sauce

Active time: 15 minutes | Total time: 1 hour plus 2 hours' soaking time

8 servings

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.

Make Ahead: The cashews must be soaked for 2 hours before making the sauce. If treating this sauce as a dip, it needs to be refrigerated for 4 hours before serving to thicken.

NOTE: The banana puree can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week. The sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days. It will thicken as it chills. To loosen, add a splash of water until the desired consistency is achieved.

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

1/2 cup (2 ounces) raw cashews, soaked in warm water for 2 hours, rinsed and drained

1/2 cup room-temperature water

1 cup (8-1/4 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

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika, or more to taste

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin, or more to taste

1/2 teaspoon fine sea or table salt, or more to taste

DIRECTIONS

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 with 1 cup of water. Blend until creamy. Transfer the puree to an airtight container and refrigerate until needed (see NOTE). You should get about 2-1/2 cups.

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 1 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 4 hours, or until it is the texture of mayonnaise. Serve with crackers, toast or vegetables, or as a spread in sandwiches or wraps.

From staff writer Emily Codik.

- - -

Chewy Vegan Brownies

Active time: 20 minutes | Total time: 1 hour 40 minutes

16 servings

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.

Make ahead: The banana puree needs to be made at least 2 hours in advance of making the brownies.

NOTE: The banana puree can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week. The brownies can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

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 (20 grams) flaxseed meal

6 tablespoons water

1-1/2 cups (350 grams) green banana puree, at room temperature (see NOTE)

1 cup (90 grams) oat flour

3/4 cup (70 grams) unsweetened cacao powder

3/4 cup (140 grams) muscovado sugar or 2/3 cup (145 grams) packed dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon fine sea or table salt

1/4 cup (10 grams) unsweetened coarsely shredded coconut, for topping

DIRECTIONS

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 2 hours, or until needed (see NOTE). You should get about 2-1/2 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 1-1/2 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 4 hours; the brownies will continue to set as they cool. Cut into 16 pieces and serve. For firmer brownies, refrigerate for a few hours.

From staff writer Emily Codik.

 

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