In India, banana leaves are so large they are used as umbrellas during monsoon season. They are used as natural food wrappers when steaming, grilling and baking different types of food. The leaf also make an attractive serving platter because of its size and sturdiness. The shrub produces only one leaf per month in winter and three to four per month in summer.
In addition to their value as food wrappers for cooking, banana leaves contain large amounts of polyphenols such as epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG, also found in green tea. Polyphenols are natural antioxidants found in many plant based foods. The leaf adds a green tea like scent to food during the cooking whether you use them to wrap food for steaming, grilling or baking. You can buy fresh banana leaves in some Asian markets and freeze them for later use. For some recipes the leaves need to be steamed prior to grilling or baking.
Before using a leaf, wash it well and cut away the thick edges and fibrous stems. The softer leaves are easier to use because and do not usually require pre-steaming. Older leaves can be warmed over an open flame. Dry the leaves well before use.
In southern India, special meals are served on banana leaves. It is customary to use a large leaf as a communal serving platter. This type of meal is called saapad in Tamil. According to the Sampradaya Sun, the food generally served on the banana leaf includes rice, vegetable sabjis, curries and raitas, anddahl.
During the festive meal, the banana leaf is placed in front of the guest of honor and the tip is cut away for their use. Pieces from the sides of the leaf are cut to serve other guests. Each guest adds different types of foods onto their leaf plate. Foods are also served that have been cooked in banana leaf. Each guest is served a portion, which is then cut open to reveal the food within.