Baking with banana peels
When the Newscripts gang finds a full-fledged recipe in an academic journal article, the temptation to replicate the results can be irresistible.
In a recent article in ACS Food Science and Technology, agricultural sciences professor Faizan Ahmad of Aligarh Muslim University and coworkers explored the use of banana peel flour to boost cookies’ nutritional content and lengthen their shelf life (2022, DOI: 10.1021/acsfoodscitech.2c00159).
Far from the garbage they usually end up as, banana peels are packed with dietary fiber, protein, amino acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and potassium. But the real star of banana peels’ chemistry is their plentiful antioxidants. Ahmad tells Newscripts that banana peels have high polyphenol content, which gives them the ability to scavenge free radicals and fight off oxidation. In layperson’s terms, banana peels deliver nutritional benefits while keeping baked goods fresh longer.
The team prepared several batches of shortbread cookies, substituting 7.5–15% of the normal wheat flour with a flour made by blanching, drying, and grinding banana peels. Ahmad says the team picked cookies because they are a popular treat in many parts of the world, and the specific shortbread recipe the researchers include in the paper is “easy peasy.”
After a detailed analysis of the banana-flour and control cookies, the researchers found that banana peel flour was able to forestall peroxidation of the fats in the cookies and deliver measurable antioxidant quantities even after months of storage.
This Newscriptster tried Ahmad’s recipe at home. The cookies were, indeed, very easy to make. Banana peel flour, on the other hand, was a pain to prepare: The process required the use of four different appliances and included 9 h in a dehydrator. But the final product stayed fresh on the counter longer than control cookies. The banana peel–based cookies were also well received by our tasting panel of four school-age children, who said the treats had notes of coffee, oats, and toast that the 100% wheat flour cookies lacked—and there was not even a hint of banana flavor.
If you think it’d be hard to talk people into eating banana peels, try mealworms. Entomophagy, the practice of eating insects and arachnids, could be a boon for the planet and human nutrition because it is less resource intensive to raise insects instead of cows, pigs, or chickens. Though uncommon in mainstream Western cuisine, bugs are a normal foodstuff in several parts of the world, and governments in the Netherlands and South Korea have programs promoting insects as food.
To encourage more bug eating, In Hee Cho, a food science professor at Wonkwang University, and collaborators are optimizing cooking methods for mealworms. In a 2020 paper, the group found that steaming was the best way to tease out a “sweet-corn-like” taste and suppress “shrimp-like” and “wet-soil” flavors (Food Sci. Anim. Resour. 2020, DOI: 10.5851/kosfa.2020.e35).
At the American Chemical Society’s Fall 2022 meeting last month, Cho’s graduate student Hyeyoung Park presented the group’s next frontier: cooking the mealworms with sugars, amino acids, and carbohydrates to create a meat-flavored seasoning via the Maillard reaction (the chemical transformation that underlies certain types of food browning).
Using the methods section of the 2020 paper and a video interview with Cho on the new research, this Newscriptster gave making a mealworm meal a go. After half an hour, the steam coming out of our pressure cooker had a mild shrimpy odor. Once out of the pot, the mealworms indeed tasted like corn, with a texture similar to but creamier than green peas. Wet soil and shrimp notes were absent.
For a meaty seasoning, the steamed mealworms were shredded and sauteed in butter with a sprinkle of salt and pinch of white sugar. As the mixture browned, it took on an aroma and taste remarkably similar to ground beef. For those seeking snacks with a smaller environmental impact, mealworms may be poised to become a meat-substitute mainstay.
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