In several south Indian states, it is traditional to serve food on banana leaves. Guests are given the top part of the leaf while family members are given the lower parts. Everybody sits together on the floor and eats with their hands. Rice, meat, vegetables, lentils, curries and pickles are all served on the same leaf, since it is large enough to accommodate a whole meal.
Eating on banana leaves is a custom that dates back thousands of years, however its benefits are still relevant today.
Banana leaves are packed with plant-based compounds called polyphenols such as epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG, which is also found in green tea. Polyphenols are natural antioxidants that battle free radicals and prevent diseases. While banana leaves are not easy to digest if eaten directly, the food absorbs the polyphenols from the leaves, so that you get the benefit of the nutrition.
It is also believed that the leaf has anti-bacterial properties that kill all the germs in the food, thereby reducing the chances of you falling sick.
Banana leaves have a waxy coating that has a subtle but distinct flavour. When hot food is placed on the leaves, the wax melts and lends its flavour to the food, making it taste better.
Most people use plastic or Styrofoam plates when they need disposable utensils, however banana leaves are a much more eco-friendly option. They decompose in a very short time, unlike plastic, which takes hundreds of years to biodegrade.
Banana leaves do not require a lot of cleaning – they just need to be rinsed with a little water and they are ready to use. If you are eating at a place where the hygiene standards are questionable, you are much better off eating from a banana leaf than from a plate that has not been cleaned properly.
Since plates are washed with soap and water, traces of the chemicals in the soap may still remain on the plates, contaminating your food. Banana leaves just need to be rinsed with a little water, and do not need to be washed with soap, so your food will be chemical-free.
The banana leaf is quite large, making it capable of holding an entire meal that consists of several different components. The leaves are also largely waterproof, thanks to their waxy coating, so they can hold gravy preparations without getting soggy.