Ethiopian Enset: The Future Of Food?

Discover enset, a remarkable banana relative that feeds 20 million Ethiopians on a daily basis.

Due to its resemblance to bananas, enset is gaining attention as a potential new staple food source for countries suffering from severe food poverty. According to the BBC, this adaptable plant is proving useful because of its ability to provide an abundant and sustainable crop in the face of hunger and climate change challenges.

The plant’s “fruit” is actually a seed pod and the edible portions of the plant are called the rhizome and the pseudostem. The pseudostem is harvested for the pithy fibers, which are fermented and used to make ‘Kocho’ (“a calorie-dense carbohydrate” similar to flatbread, according to Atlas Obscura), porridge, and other traditional Ethiopian dishes. Whereas, the rhizome is boiled to make ‘Amicho’ (which is similar to a potato).

Below, we’re able to see Balè Moya, a food blogger on Instagram cooking ‘Boolah’. A traditional Ethiopian porridge dish made from Enset.

Credits – Balé Moya via Instagram

Enset’s role in food security:

Enset is currently a food staple for over 20 million people, and scientists hope that enset cultivation will expand outside of Ethiopia for a variety of reasons as it is said that 60 plants could feed a family of five for a year! (via Kew).

Pro’s of enset:

  1. To begin with, you can plant or harvest it at any time of year.
  2. Once planted, it will continue to grow for up to ten or twelve years before flowering and dying.
  3. If you harvest it before this point, you can collect several hundred kilograms of starchy vegetable-like tissue that you can use to make a variety of dishes.
  4. It’s drought tolerant and there are hundreds of different varieties (similar to potatoes and apples) that are believed to have adapted to different conditions developing new flavours or uses.
  5. It’s clonally propagated, which means that to get new plants, you cut the top off an old plant in a specific way and hundreds of new shoots emerge, which you can then plant out in the fields.
  6. Enset has other applications as well; the fibres (a byproduct of harvesting) are extremely strong and are used in construction.
  7. The leaves are used to make bread, roofing packaging, and the midribs are excellent animal fodder during the dry season.
  8. Several varieties are said to have medicinal properties, particularly those with the deep red leaves.
  9. Because of enset’s versatility, it can provide a long-term sustainable food supply by helping to buffer seasonal gaps in other crops or events such as crop pests or disease outbreaks.

However, a lot is still unknown about this ‘wondercrop’ and research is significant if we are to cultivate and conserve this extraordinary Ethiopian crop.