Banana flowers (a.k.a. banana blossoms) are, as the name suggests, the blossoms from a banana tree. Left on the tree, they would blossom into bananas. Like bananas, they are wonderfully edible.
What Do Banana Flowers Taste Like?
They don't so much taste like a banana as like something that will grow into a banana. They have a similar aromatic profile, but it's much more delicate and much less banana-like when still in the blossom form. It's similar to the taste relationship between zucchini blossoms and full-grown zucchini.
Where to Find Banana Flowers
In areas where bananas grow, banana flowers are sold at farmers markets, road stands, and even grocery stores. If you're not in a tropical locale resplendent with banana trees, you may find banana flowers at Asian food stores or specialty markets, but usually only in the frozen foods section. If you buy them frozen, they work well in cooked preparations, but won't defrost into anything you'd want to toss in a salad or otherwise serve raw.
If you live where they'll grow, planting your own banana tree may be your best bet for assuring a predictable supply of banana flowers.
Note that banana flowers are different from banana leaves. Banana leaves are heartier and thus more widely available. They are thick—even waxy—and a deep dark green. Banana leaves are not so much edible as they are used in many cuisines to wrap food for gentle cooking (i.e., many Central American cuisines use them to wrap tamales to stream them).
How to Eat Banana Flowers
The youngest, freshest specimens can be simply chopped and used in salads. Try it added to spinach salads, all on its own with a simple dressing and topped with chopped macadamia nuts. Banana flowers can also be used in soups or sliced and added to stir-frys. In short, you can use banana flowers the same way you would cabbage or other greens—they cook quickly and lose quite a bit of volume when cooked.
Tips for Using Banana Flowers
The darker, tough husks (often magenta in hue) on the outside of the flower need to be stripped away to reveal the tender, yummy yellow-green leaves inside.
Note that banana flower leaves will turn brown or black if left to sit exposed to air for any length of time, so don't peel off that outer layer until you're ready to use them.
To minimize browning if they do need to sit after you remove the tough outer layer and separate or chop the inner leaves: put them in a bowl of acidulated water (add several tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar to a bowl of water (about 1 tablespoon for every 2 cups of water) to minimize the browning.