Nijssen explained that the company is not using conventional unripened green bananas, but a special type of green cooking banana indigenous to southwest Uganda known as 'matooke,' which is a staple crop for the country. According to the company, 75% of farmers grow matooke, but 30% of the crop goes to waste due to overproduction and lack of food industry use as functional ingredient.
The company dries the green bananas and mills them down into a fine powder and incorporates the powder into a variety of products including pasta and cereal.
Nijssen said that matooke has a lot of appeal as a food ingredient as it is gluten-free, high in dietary fiber and resistant starch, making it a slowly digested carbohydrate that doesn't spike blood sugar levels. From a production formulation standpoint, matooke has a neutral taste profile and a holds its structure when exposed to heat and different processing methods [although high heat can degrade some resistant starch].
"The taste itself is very neutral so it doesn’t have this sweet banana flavor that a regular banana has, so it has a lot of different applications," Nijssen told FoodNavigator-USA. "You can basically use it in everything."
'The perfect al dente bite'
Gabanna's first application for the green banana flour is a line of pasta products that cook in five minutes. Compared to other gluten-free pastas that can turn gummy after cooking, Gabanna pasta maintains its shape and firmness creating "the perfect al dente bite," said Nijssen.
The company combines the green banana flour in its pasta with buckwheat flour, yellow pea flour, and pea protein to heighten the nutritional profile of the pasta while adding some extra bite.
At the IFT show in New Orleans earlier this month, Gabanna was showcasing its green banana cereal made with green banana flour, millet, and buckwheat sweetened with honey and dates. Company is also exploring other applications outside of shelf-stable products, according to Nijssen.
"The flour itself gives it a really smooth texture so for example, if you use it in plant-based milk or yogurt, you get a really creamy smooth product," she said.
"We also want to sell the [green banana] flour as an ingredient and give other companies opportunities to be creative with this flour and see what they can come up with," Nijssen added.
"For now, we’re really focused on getting these three core products (pasta, cereal, and snacks) to the market."
Securing a stable supply chain
Matooke farming is under pressure in Uganda where fewer farmers are able to make a viable income as local markets can only absorb so much of the crop, which is harvested three times of year. Which is why Gabanna sees export as a way to stabilize prices and create sustainable jobs for farmers. Gabanna is currently establishing and expanding direct partnerships with small farm holders. Nijssen said.
"It’s very important for us to have a secure supply chain and have this direct partnership with the farmers so that is what we’re focusing on next to really make sure that this supply chain is stable and that the farmers get a fair income," Njissen said.