Gallery: Packaging the Future: Banana Leaves as Natural Packaging!


Nature has had millions of years to come up with perfect natural packaging solutions — brilliant designs made from elements as simple as water, sun and nutrients that keep liquids wet, protect cargo during transportation, and prevent mold or insects from getting in. The purpose of our Packaging the Future series is to highlight how we can use nature’s examples to make low-impact designs for better packaging, and so far I’ve focused more on the pipe-dream than the practical. This week is different; banana leaves are a packaging solution that has existed for thousands of years, still exists today, and that could benefit the environment by simply expanding their use to new areas.

Photo by Christopher Sessums

Traditionally, the leaves of the banana tree are used most often as (quite dynamic and attractive) serving vessels for everyday meals in South Indian and Filipino cuisine. Hindus and Buddhists both use the leaves for religious ceremonies and offerings, and the fully biodegradable and bright green leaves are used as trays of sorts. But that’s not all!

Banana leaves are said to impart a special flavor to foods and can even be used to steam food, especially cha lua, a Vietnamese sausage. Banana leaf rice is a dish unto itself in South Indian cooking, and it’s usually served with a vegetarian curry.

Lead photo by Madhawa Habarakada

Cooking and eating with banana leaves is such a common practice that it has even earned its own tradition. According to Wikipedia, “In Malaysia, to show your appreciation after a satisfying meal, fold the banana leaf towards you (i.e. inwards) to signify that the meal was good. Folding the opposite direction (i.e. upwards/away from you) signifies that the meal was not satisfying.”

Food is served on the leaves not only because it makes for a lovely presentation, but because it is thought that an enzyme on the leaf, which is broken down by the hot food placed up on it, is actually released into the food, and aids in digestion. Outside of Indian and Asian food, however, the possibilities for banana leaves really open up, as they can be used for cooking all sorts of dishes that one would normally use aluminum foil or parchment paper for (though banana leaves are a bit porous, so it’s a good idea to put them in a baking dish so they won’t leak in your oven).

The leaves can also be used in a BBQ in the same way; wrap potatoes or meat to grill or steam as you would if you were using foil, or use as a mat for smaller items that could fall through the leaf.

+ Packaging the Future

Starre Vartan is founder and editor-in-chief of Eco-Chick and author of The Eco-Chick Guide to Life (St. Martin’s Press). A green living expert, she contributes to The Huffington Post and Mother Nature Network (


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  1. MOlm September 20, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    I’ve been wanting to use banana leaves for packaging and promotional materials for years but have never been able to find a source to purchase from. My quantities would not be large (100-300) Do you know of any?


  2. baidu456 September 8, 2011 at 3:05 am

    I love drinks! Anyhow I like reading your site because the writers always provide great pieces of information about my favorite topics. Outstanding post I enjoyed it once again. I will add this website to my favorites list. I think I shall subscribe to the websites feed as well. Tha yummiest paaart when waking up is folgers in youre mug

  3. madhawahabarakada February 19, 2011 at 11:04 pm

    great article.
    And thank for using my photo. :)

  4. cetakmeta December 28, 2010 at 6:19 am


    in java, banana leaves are usual to bbe the traditional food package. we always do that.

  5. sgersman December 9, 2010 at 11:15 pm

    And exactly how many thousand miles do banana leaves have to travel to be used for packaging outside of the tropics?

  6. Dipika December 9, 2010 at 2:34 am

    As recently as 10 years ago, banana leaves were everywhere in my home state of Kerala. If you went to a ceremony, food was served on it. Recently i’ve noticed more and more people using paper leaves that have been dyed and shaped to look like banana leaves. While i understand that banana plantations have a hard time keeping up with population demands, it is almost unfathomable how a paper could replicate that gentle aroma when hot rice hits the dewy leaf. Not to mention, the dyes…do we really need to ingest those things? Moving toward traditionalist practices is all good, but increasingly pleasure like these seem so unsustainable that only a fraction of the population can afford to indulge and by fraction, i specifically note tourists. It is saddening that something as simple as a banana leaf is now a rare emblem of heritage.

  7. Yuka Yoneda December 7, 2010 at 11:22 am

    The tradition of folding a banana leaf towards you to signify that a meal was good is really interesting. What kind of person would fold it away from them – how rude!

  8. jakesculley December 7, 2010 at 11:00 am

    I’m glad I live in a society that has bowls. With that being said, I’m sure rotting banana leaves would be great when I open up my new electronic device.

  9. Jasmin Malik Chua December 7, 2010 at 10:47 am

    Plus, banana leaves smell fantastic!

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