Ensete, also known as the false banana plant, is a plant native to Ethiopia that is an important food source for about 20 million people, which is around a fifth of the country’s population. While wild enset is bitter and unpalatable, the domesticated form is edible and provides a carbohydrate-rich food.  The banana-like fruit of the enset plant is inedible, but the starchy stems and roots can be fermented and used to make a bread-like food called kocho. The root of the enset tree, called amicho, is also edible.

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What is Ensete, and how does it taste?

Ensete is a plant that looks like a banana plant but harvests like a root vegetable. The domesticated form of the plant tastes like flatbread and is much more palatable than the wild form. The enset plant is technically a cousin of the banana, but it offers a food that is much more potato-like.

Why is Ensete called the false banana?

Ensete is often referred to as the false banana because of its resemblance to the banana plant. Although the plant is related to bananas, it is not used in the same way as bananas.

What are the nutritional benefits of Ensete?

Ensete is a good source of carbohydrates and starch, with small amounts of protein and fiber. The chemical composition of enset dry matter as a whole plant is 90.87% organic matter and 9.13% ash. The organic matter is composed of 5.98% crude protein, 0.84% crude fat, 9.48% crude fiber, 74.57% soluble carbohydrates, and 60.62% starch.

What are the uses of Ensete?

Every part of the Ensete plant has some sort of use in the material culture of the Kambata community in Ethiopia. The corm (modified underground stem) and pseudostem are used for food in the form of kocho, bulla, and amicho. The leaf is used for fiber, wrapping materials, and fodder for animals. Additionally, the entire plant, except for the roots, is used to feed livestock.

What are the benefits of the false banana?

In addition to providing food, parts of the Ensete plant are used in making rope, medicine, shelter, as feed for animals, and even items of clothing like skirts. The plant is also ecologically important because its roots hold together the soil and prevent erosion. Ensete grows well with added animal manure, making it perfect for livestock farmers.

How is Ensete eaten?

To make kocho from fermented enset, a portion is chopped and mixed with spices and butter, then formed into flat discs and baked in clay pans, on a griddle, or in an oven pit. Served with milk, cheese, cabbage, meat, or coffee, this versatile carbohydrate adds bulk to meals. A preparation of unfermented ensete is called bu’la and is often served boiled or baked with butter, legumes, milk, roasted meat, or kale, and is served for special occasions.

Are Ensete bananas edible?

The genus Ensete of Africa produces no edible bananas, but the flower stalk of one species, E. ventricosa, is edible after cooking.

Can we eat red banana flower?

The banana flower or banana blossom is an edible part of the tropical species of the banana tree (Musa acuminata). This cone-shaped flower has a dark red-orange or maroon hue and is consumable as curries, salads, cutlets, and soups.

Why is Ensete inedible?

The enset plant can be subject to multiple diseases that threaten its use in agriculture. The most well-known of these diseases is bacterial wilt, also known as borijje and wol’a by the Kore people. This disease is caused by the bacteria Xanthomonas campestris pathovar Musacerum and can cause the plant to rot and die. As a result, it is important for farmers to take preventative measures to protect their enset crops from this disease. Despite this, enset remains an important and culturally significant crop in Ethiopia, providing food and livelihoods for millions of people.


Enset: The Remarkable African Banana Relative with High Food Security Potential

Enset (Ensete ventricosum) is a wild African banana relative that has been domesticated in the Ethiopian Highlands. The domesticated form of enset provides the staple food for around 20 million people in Ethiopia, which is about a fifth of the country’s population. The plant has a combination of attributes that make it a remarkable crop: it can grow up to ten meters tall, and as few as 15 plants can feed a person for a year. It also has flexible harvest times, stores well, and is relatively drought and disease tolerant. These attributes have earned enset the name “the tree against hunger” amongst the communities who grow it.

However, enset has not been adopted elsewhere due to a combination of history, culture, and geography. The southern Ethiopian highlands are like an island, isolated by dry lowlands unsuitable for enset to grow. This natural barrier has likely hindered the spread of enset-based agriculture. Additionally, a vast treasure of local knowledge has formed around the procedures for enset cultivation and preparation over centuries, which is deeply engrained in the local cultural identity. This extensive knowledge required for enset cultivation probably formed a second barrier for the expansion of enset cultivation.

Despite these barriers, recent research suggests that enset has the potential to be grown over a much larger area, expanding perhaps even 12-fold. Enset could help support the food security of more people, particularly under climate change. The crop is highly suitable for persisting under high-emission climate change scenarios, making it an important option for adaptation. Additionally, conserving wild enset is important, as it contains diversity that could be useful for plant breeding in the future. Enset is an exemplar of the synergies between agriculture and conservation, where conservation can provide useful genetic resources for agriculture.

Diversifying farming systems with orphan crops like enset is an important pathway to help farmers and societies adapt to climate change. Enset’s outstanding food security traits and high expansion potential make it an integral part of that story. Therefore, it is crucial to promote and conserve enset cultivation, ensuring food security for the current and future generations.

Source. Kew Gardens.


Last Modified: May 3, 2023