The banana yucca plant has a long history of use among western Native American tribes. The roots were used for soap and the leaves make excellent cordage. But you know me, I'm interested in the sweet, delicious banana yucca fruit!
First, to be clear: yucca and yuca are not the same thing. Yuca is the edible root of the cassava plant and yucca is a plant in the Agave family, commonly used as a landscape plant in dry climates.
Yuccas are drought tolerant, succulent plants, and while they're native to the desert, you can grow Yucca baccata in many climates. It's hardy to Zone 6 and grows best with full sun and a quick draining, sandy soil.
Banana yucca is so named because someone (who clearly wasn't wearing glasses) thought the fruit looked like bananas. When ripe, the fruit is 2-3 inches long and medium green. Stiff, blue-green foliage edged with curled fibers make it attractive even when the plant isn't in bloom. The flower stalks of banana yucca are three to five feet tall and produce a dense spike of large, bright white flowers. It's an impressive plant even if you don't want to eat it.
Depending on your location, banana yucca fruit ripens in early to mid-fall. Because the fruit is green, you can't depend on its color to know when it's ripe. Instead, give it a gentle squeeze; it's ripe when the fruit gives a little under gentle pressure. It should be soft but not mushy. You can either pick each banana yucca fruit individually or cut the stem that holds the entire cluster of fruit just above where it emerges from the leaves.
Each fruit contains A LOT of seeds; this is definitely not something to just pop into your mouth and eat whole. The raw fruit is edible and slightly sweet, but the natural sweetness of the fruit is intensified by heat, which also softens the fruit and makes it easier to work with.
How to Use Banana Yucca Fruit
To prepare the pulp, wash the fruit and spread it on a baking sheet. Roast at 400F for 20-30 minutes, or until the fruit is easy to pierce with a skewer, then remove from the oven. When the fruit has cooled enough to touch, pull it apart by pushing into the bottom of the fruit with your thumb and peeling back the sections.
Each fruit has three sections, and each of those contains a double line of large, black seeds. I tried running the cooked fruit through a food mill and the results were hilarious. Black seeds were literally flung through the air, pinging off cabinets and countertops. It's much easier to split the fruit open with your fingers, then scoop out the seeds and the fibers that hold them in place. While I've heard the seeds can be dried and ground into flour, I haven't tried that yet. I tossed my seeds out into the backyard, hoping to start my own crop of banana yucca at home.
The roasted fruit is unbelievably sweet. As a purée, it makes an excellent side dish, similar to applesauce but with its own unique flavor. You can also slice it up and use it as a pie filling or make an unusual turnover. Try it without any additional sweetener....it's delicious all on its own.