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.