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The average US household wastes 32 percent of its food, costing each family about $1,600 a year. While everyone can practice more responsible shopping and be better about eating ingredients or leftovers before they go bad, some of that waste, like fruit peels, can’t be avoided. Or so you may think.

In fact, you can eat apple cores and kiwi skins, use orange peels for garnish, and yes, even chow down on banana peels. Given the proper application of heat, sauce and spices, these oft-discarded skins make a pretty darn good plant-based substitute for barbecue pulled-pork sandwiches.

Believe it. The idea may not have caught on in the US yet, but people in Venezuela, India, and Southeast Asia have been cooking and eating banana peels for years. And not only are they edible, they’re good for you, too: banana peels contain potassium, fiber, antioxidants, vitamins B6 and B12, magnesium, and even protein. 

Annually, the average American eats 13.4 pounds of bananas—our favorite fresh fruit. But since peels can comprise 35 percent of the fruit, a large portion of what we buy goes in the trash. Eating the peels could reduce a significant amount of food waste. And by the way, discarded food is the single largest category of material that ends up in municipal landfills, producing methane—a potent greenhouse gas—as it breaks down.

So why haven’t we been preparing banana peels, caramelizing them in sugar, adding them to smoothies, or frying them up in barbecue sauce? It seems Americans can’t seem to get over the ick factor—there are just some things we as a culture have deemed unfit for consumption. But if you’re open-minded enough to give banana peels a shot, we think these barbecue banana peel sandwiches are the perfect introduction.

First, choose the perfect bananas

Like with many dishes, ingredient selection is important. While you can toss very ripe or soft peels into banana bread or a smoothie, you’ll need to buy fruit that’s just underripe if you want a similar texture to pulled pork. The bananas should have tinges of green around their tops and bottoms, or at least be completely yellow and still firm. Soft, brown banana peels will get mushy and unpalatable when cooked.

[Related: Craving a radioactive snack? Grab a banana.]

When you find bananas at the perfect level of ripeness, try to confirm they’re pesticide-free. If you can’t, clean or wash the unpeeled bananas very well, like you would with any fruit that has an edible peel.

Now, don’t do a 180 and waste the actual fruit: eat it as a pre-meal snack, make a fruit salad, whip up some banana pudding, or freeze some slices to use later.

Stats

  • Time: 20 minutes (prep), 10 to 15 minutes (cooking)
  • Material cost: $10 to $15
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Ingredients

  • 6 banana peels, scraped clean and shredded
  • 4 hamburger buns
  • 3/4 cup of water
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon of liquid smoke
  • 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tablespoon of brown mustard
  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup of barbecue sauce, plus more to taste

Tools

  • Sharp knife
  • Spoon
  • Fork
  • Cutting board
  • Medium (or large) pan with a lid
  • Spatula (or flipper)

Instructions

1. Prepare the bananas. Cut off the top and bottom quarter-inch of each fruit and peel them, ideally into four sections. This will help ensure the peels are fairly narrow, about the width of a dinner fork. Use a spoon to scrape out any remaining white banana flesh, which you can compost.

2. Shred the banana peels with a fork. Try to end up with thin strips similar to the size of pulled pork. Then, cut the strips into 2- to 3-inch-long pieces. It’ll take some elbow grease.

A person shredding banana peels with a fork on a teal plastic cutting board, with a knife on the cutting board and banana peels all around it.
A fork is really just four little knives if you think about it. Alisha McDarris

3. Make the sauce. In a bowl large enough to contain all the shreds, combine the water, olive oil, cumin, chili powder, pepper, garlic powder, liquid smoke, apple cider vinegar, mustard and soy sauce. Stir to mix.

4. Add the shredded banana peels to the sauce. Then, toss to coat them in delicious flavor.

5. Cook the peels. Heat a pan with a lid over medium heat and add the contents of the bowl to the pan. Stir, then cover the pan with the lid. Let everything steam for about 10 minutes. The cooking time will depend on the ripeness of the banana peels you’re using, so start taste-testing around 8 minutes in. If the pan starts to look dry, add more water a few tablespoons at a time.

6. Finish cooking. When the shreds are no longer crunchy, but not mushy, remove the lid and add the half-cup of barbeque sauce. Sauté the shreds and sauce for another 1 to 2 minutes, tasting and adding additional salt and sauce if desired.

7. Build your sandwiches. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the saucy shreds to hamburger buns. Top with pickles, coleslaw, lettuce, shredded carrots, or whatever your heart desires, and enjoy immediately.

That’s what we call a cheap, plant-based meal that reduces food waste, saves money, and tastes great doing it. Just don’t expect there to be leftovers.

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