Saba bananas, often termed "cardaba" or "cardava" bananas, are a cultivar from the Philippines. These cooking bananas have a thick skin that shifts from green when unripe to yellow with black spots when ripe.
As they cook, their natural sweetness and rich flavor intensify, making them a staple in Filipino desserts and savory dishes alike.
What are saba bananas?
Saba bananas, native to the Philippines, are a distinct variety that differs from regular Cavendish bananas. They are plump, more angular, and have tougher skin.
Primarily used for cooking, they have a firm, starchy texture that becomes sweeter when cooked. They are predominantly grown in tropical climates, favoring well-draining soil and abundant sunlight for optimal growth.
Saba bananas are a key ingredient in Filipino cooking, especially in desserts. Their versatility and health benefits make them popular for various culinary uses, not just as a snack.
What do saba bananas taste like?
Saba bananas offer a unique taste profile that changes with ripeness. In their initial ripe phase, they have a firm and starchy texture with a mild sweetness.
Like many other varieties, their sweetness intensifies and the texture softens as they continue to ripen. Cooking them amplifies their taste as the natural sugars caramelize, giving them a deeply rich and sweet flavor.
Can I eat raw saba bananas?
Yes, you can eat raw saba bananas when they are very ripe. However, I don't particularly recommend it. They might not be as enjoyable as other varieties, like the Cavendish, because of their firmer, starchier texture.
While it's safe to consume them raw, they are primarily used for cooking, where their taste becomes enhanced, turning softer and sweeter.
Are saba bananas healthy?
Saba bananas are not just delicious; they're also nutritious. They offer a multitude of health benefits. Their high dietary fiber content aids digestion, and the presence of B vitamins boosts metabolism.
For those seeking an energy boost, the carbohydrates they offer make them an ideal snack before or after workouts. The potassium they contain plays a role in reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Rich in vitamin C, they boost immunity and promote antioxidant activity. They also help regulate blood sugar levels, making them ideal for individuals with diabetes. With a good amount of folic acid, they're valuable for expectant mothers, ensuring proper fetal development.
Saba bananas are nutritious but high in sugar and calories, so moderation is key. Those with kidney issues or diabetes should be particularly cautious. As always, It's best to consult a healthcare professional with dietary concerns.
How to buy saba bananas
When shopping for saba bananas, note the color: green indicates they're still unripe and need some days to ripen. If you're looking for ones ready to cook, choose yellow ones with black spots.
If fresh ones are hard to find in your area, consider grabbing frozen alternatives, which are available at Asian or international grocery stores. These frozen options can be a convenient choice and still deliver that authentic taste!
How to store saba bananas
Storing bananas properly is crucial to maintain their freshness and flavor. Here's how:
- At Room Temperature: If they're green or not fully ripe, keep them at room temperature. This will allow them to ripen naturally. Avoid placing them near other fruits, as the ethylene gas they produce can speed up the ripening process.
- Refrigerate Once Ripe: When they are ripe (yellow with black spots), you can place them in the refrigerator. The skin might turn brownish-black, but the fruit inside will remain fresh.
- Keep Away from Direct Sunlight: Direct sunlight can cause them to ripen too quickly. Find a cool, dark spot in your kitchen or pantry.
- Freezing: If you have more than you can consume before they overripen, consider peeling and freezing them in airtight containers or plastic bags. They can then be used for cooking later.
Filipino recipes with Saba Bananas
Saba bananas are more than just a snack. Although we love them simply boiled and dipped in sugar, they're also added to stews and soups, offering a hint of sweetness and a unique texture. Here are some of our favorites:
- Turon (Banana Spring Rolls): A popular street food where slices of saba bananas and sugar (sometimes with jackfruit) are wrapped in lumpia wrappers and fried until crispy. Ube Turon is a variation made with Ube Halaya (Purple Yam Jam).
- Minatamis na Saba (Sweetened Bananas): Saba bananas boiled with brown sugar and water, resulting in tender and syrupy bananas.
- Banana Cue: Skewered fried saba bananas with caramelized brown sugar.
- Ginataang Bilo-bilo: A warm, creamy dessert with coconut milk, glutinous rice balls (bilo-bilo), bananas, sweet potatoes, cassava, jackfruit, and occasionally other ingredients like sago and ube (purple yam).
- Halo-Halo: A shaved ice dessert with Ube Halaya (Purple Yam Jam), sweetened beans, various sweetened fruits (like jackfruit, macapuno, mangoes, or bananas), gulaman (agar-agar), and sago. It is topped off with pinipig (pounded young rice), ice cream (such as Ube Ice Cream or Mango Queso Ice Cream), Leche Flan, and a generous pour of evaporated milk.
- Pochero: A tomato-based stew with a choice of beef, pork, or chicken, accompanied by vegetables like cabbage, pechay, green beans, and potatoes. Saba bananas add a hint of sweetness and a unique flavor.
- Arroz à la Cubana: A Filipino adaptation with ground beef or pork sautéed with garlic, onions, tomato paste, and potatoes. It is sometimes complemented by raisins, carrots, and peas. The dish is served with rice, a fried egg, and fried saba bananas.
- Nilagang Baka (Boiled Beef Soup): A clear broth containing beef shank, bone marrow, and various vegetables. Saba bananas are added for an additional layer of flavor.
- Maruya (Banana Fritters): Slices of saba bananas dipped in a batter of rice flour and sugar, then fried until golden brown and crispy.
- Saba Con Yelo: A refreshing dessert made of shaved ice, sweetened saba bananas, and topped with evaporated milk.
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