While dried ripe bananas are sweet and stick together if you try and mill them into a powder unless you add maltodextrin or other substances, unripe green bananas are not sweet, and the dried powder is a beige color, neutral tasting, and doesn’t clump, WEDO Banana Flour co-founder David Wintzer told FoodNavigator-USA.
“There is only one ingredient in WEDO banana flour: green bananas. If you eat it raw, it has a hint of banana flavor, but when you bake with it, it has an earthy, wholesome flavor. The texture is light and fluffy, not gummy, gritty and grainy.”
High in potassium and RS2 resistant starch (which is not digested in the small intestine and has prebiotic properties and beneficial effects on blood glucose) the gluten-free flour works well as a wheat flour replacement or partial replacement in a wide range of applications from smoothies and baked goods to desserts, pancakes, stir fry and waffles, he added.
“It mimics the effects of wheat flour remarkably well and because of the high starch content you can use less flour than it says in a recipe; I always say start by using 50% and then keep adding, but the rule of thumb is to use about 25% less. A lot of people also use it as a thickener in soups or sauces, baby foods or smoothies, but we’re discovering new applications all the time.”
It’s gluten-free, but the paleo people also like it because it’s a flour, but it’s grain free
Wintzer first came across banana flour in Kenya in 2008 and 2009 where he was working with a group of 25 women, Women Entrepreneurs Development Organization (WEDO), in granting micro-loans to start up small businesses. One of these businesses was a banana flour factory, WEDO’s original supplier [it now works with suppliers in Peru and Ecuador and packs the flour in Utah].
After returning to the US, Wintzer and friend Todd Francis started exploring whether they could partner with small-scale farmers and take banana flour to the US, where its ‘all-natural’ credentials, high potassium and RS2 content and novelty factor might appeal to consumers, especially in the gluten-free market.
But can’t these farmers make more money from selling bananas for the fresh fruit market?
No, says Wintzer. “Banana flour is made from bananas that are not suitable for commercial sale because they have slight blemishes or odd shapes, but are otherwise fine, and they are just being thrown away; and they don’t actually compost very well, so they want people to take rejects off their hands.
“ We try and stop this unnecessary waste and helps these farmers make a better living by purchasing the part of the crop that commercial customers won’t buy.”
We’re in 400 grocery stores, but Amazon is our best customer
So how much success has he had to date? It’s been a slow process, in part because the product is still so new (it first became available in February 2014 following a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised almost $36,000) – and Wintzer and Francis don’t have mega-bucks to pump into a huge marketing campaign, but to date they have secured distribution for their retail products in 400+ stores mainly in Utah, Colorado and California, and are now talking to bakers and other customers interested in buying it in wholesale quantities.
“We’ve had interest from all over the world, from the UK, Japan, South Korea as well as here in the US. And our biggest sales are online; Amazon is our best customer. We started out trying to build a retail brand but I think longer-term the wholesale and bakery side of the business is probably where we’ll focus.
“There’s a lot of interest because it’s gluten-free, but the paleo people also like it because it’s a flour, but it’s grain free. It’s unique, and probably closer to coconut flour in texture and price than, say, almond flour or rice flour. Chefs really love playing around with it and they have come up with ideas that we hadn’t even thought of.”
Patent applications show that PepsiCo has been looking at unripe bananas and plaintains
But if banana flour catches on, what’s to stop larger competitors coming in and stealing his thunder given that the process for making banana flour is so simple? We already know from patent applications (click HERE) that PepsiCo is examining the potential of unripe bananas and plantains (albeit with the skins included).
Nothing in theory, says Wintzer, which is why the first mover advantage is so important along with the relationships WEDO is building with small scale suppliers in south America, the continued development of the retail brand, and the firm’s ‘Buy one Feed One’ social mission (for every pound of WEDO banana flour sold, it provides a meal to a child via the World Food Program USA).