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‘Ethiopian banana’ might aid in food security

'Banana on steroids'

Described as “a banana on steroids”, the enset (Ensete ventricosum) also known as Ethiopian banana, Abyssinian banana or false banana, is a species of flowering plant in the banana family. It just might become a superfood, as scientists say it could be a life saver for a warming world.

The plant, which grows up to 10 meters, is a staple for 20 million people in the Ethiopian Highlands who turn it into bread and porridge, construction materials, packaging, cattle feed and medicine.

“People are saying this is a new wonder crop,” said James Borrell, a scientist at London’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, which is researching the plant’s potential. “It’s amazingly resilient. It’s said to be very drought tolerant and we’re trying to test that.”

Although a close relative of the banana, the enset, which has been dubbed “the tree against hunger” has inedible orange pulp that is full of bullet-like seeds. Instead, the starchy tissue from the trunk and the giant underground corm -with bulbs weighing up to 100kg- is turned into a pulp and buried in a pit to ferment before being made into a chewy flatbread called kocho.

Borrell said the plant was a “really exciting part of the mix” for food security under climate change because it grows in a huge range of conditions - “from baking to foggy and freezing cold” - and can be harvested any time.


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