The first time I ate on a leaf, a banana leaf, to be precise was in a small eatery where Tamil meals were popular. By the end of the meal, I wondered why meals weren’t served in those leaves elsewhere.
The local eatery had adopted the leaves for one major reason– it was economical. The restaurant would buy them in bulk, use them, and wouldn’t have to clean them, as they would be disposed of in the soil. The plantains were the perfect answer for waste disposal as well.
It was only later when I found that the tradition of eating not only from banana plantains but most leaves is a tradition that dates back centuries.
Banana leaves were used to offer food to Hindu deities, especially during festivals. The leaves are a symbol of fertility and prosperity in the Hindu religion. And it’s for a good reason as well.
In fact, banana leaves are not the only leaves on which food is served. As I found out, there are many other native Indian trees, the leaves from which are used to serve food. And not just that, eating from leaves has specific advantages which you simply do not get from plates made of stainless steel.
Let’s start off with the familiar banana leaves.
Banana leaves are thick and waterproof, making them an excellent choice for serving food. But what makes them more advantageous to the person eating off of them, is their nutritional benefits.
Banana leaves are packed with plant-based compounds called polyphenols, which are the natural antioxidants. The warm food served on the plantains stimulates the polyphenols which gets absorbed in the food.
And what else, the plantains have antibacterial properties and contain Vitamin A, Citric acid, Calcium and Carotene.
So, the next time you have the option to eat from these awesome leaves, do not turn them down.
The oval leaves from the jack trees are more commonly seen in the southern parts of India, especially Kerala. These are another type of leaves which are rich in antioxidants.
Though jackfruit leaves are not usually used to serve food, they are used in cooking, where food can be steamed and wrapped inside them. The steaming process leaches out compounds from the leaves that enriches the food.
One particular compound the leaf has is the phytonutrient. Consuming a diet rich in phytonutrients seems to be an “effective strategy” for lowering risks for cancer and heart disease, says the research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The leaves also help in detoxification, controlling diabetes and even improving your immune system.
THE BASTARD TEAK LEAVES
If you have been to pani puri stalls, most often, you will be given a leaf-based plate or bowl. It’s most likely a bastard teak leaf.
The leaves from these deciduous trees are another essential item used in various Hindu religious ceremonies. The leaves are often used in the form of inexpensive organic leaf plates, as well as cups, especially during rural feasts.
They have a wide range of benefits, especially when cooked along with the food. They are rich in natural fibre, and due to their astringent property, they are also very good for the skin.
The leaves also have a natural form of glucose which can enhance the taste of the food while going easy on your body!
THE LOTUS LEAVES
Last but not least, is the all-rounder lotus. The lotus plant is such a wholesome plant that each part of it can be consumed for better health. And the leaves are no less.
The alkaloids present in the leaves are a natural cure for diarrhoea, while also helping improve heart function and blood circulation.
But it is the water-repelling property of the leaves that they are known for. That unique property of the leaves is useful when cooking lip-smacking sticky rice. The sticky rice is wrapped neatly in the leaves and tied with a twine. This not only keeps the food fresh but also absorbs all the nutrients from the leaves.
Food has been served on green leaves since ancient times. It is not that we keep up the trend but rather look into its advantages as many eateries are now using banana leaves instead of butter paper. Some even use leaves for packing.
Taking a leaf out of the ancient times might not be such a bad idea, especially when there are so many nutritional benefits!
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)