Iholena: How to Cook This Hawaiian-Style Banana

Iholena: How to Cook This Hawaiian-Style Banana

What makes the iholena banana unique?

1) Unlike typical bananas that turn yellow when ripe, iholena bananas turn yellow before the fruit is ripe.

2) The fruit of the iholena is oblong (like a canoe) rather than crescent-shaped like a typical banana.

3) Iholena stick out from the central axis at a right angle, compared to the upward curve you’ll see with other bananas.

 If I had a dollar for every time I mumbled the words, “Ma ka hana ka ‘ike” . . . well, I’d have a lot of dollars.

This ʻōlelo noʻeau, or Hawaiian proverb, is translated as “in doing one learns” or “knowledge is gained by doing.” In other words, the best way to learn something is to simply start doing it!

Most times, I’ll recite this proverb when I make a mistake around the farm. “Oh well, ma ka hana ka ʻike” I’ll tell myself, then make a mental note to do it differently the next time.

In the case of the iholena banana, ma ka hana ka ʻike meant that this formerly unfamiliar variety would become my newest obsession.

I remember the first time someone introduced me to the iholena banana. “It’s just like a plantain,” they said. That was enough for me to tune out the rest of the conversation. For some reason, I’ve always been intimidated by plantains. I just didn’t know what to do with a plantain or how to prepare it, so I avoided them altogether.

Fast forward to 2018. Brad and I were visiting our friend and fellow farmer Gerry Ross of Kupaʻa Farms in Kula. As we walked his fields, we came to a shady spot at the top of his property where he had a patch of iholena bananas. He explained that it’s a Hawaiian variety (yay, cool!) that are similar to plantains (oh, plantains), and offered us some keiki to cultivate at our farm. Despite my non-existent relationship with plantains, I thought it would be an interesting experiment. I figured, if nothing else, we could give them away.

Fast forward again, and I’ve gone bananas for these bananas. So there you go: ma ka hana ka ʻike. It took me actually growing these iholena to really learn about and appreciate them. And now, I’ve been cooking with them every chance I get. (No offense, potatoes, but I really don’t need you any more.)

Here are some tips for using iholena as a potato substitute:

For our purposes, you’ll want to use fruit that are still firm and have a green tinge to them. At this stage of ripeness, it’s challenging to peel these fruit. We tried scoring the skin, then peeling it off in pieces, however our preferred method is to simply use a peeler.

At this stage, you’ll likely feel a starchy film on your hands. That’s a good sign, meaning it’s the perfect ripeness to use in more savory dishes. Note that iholena can be used in sweeter, dessert-type recipes as well, but for now I’m focusing on using them in place of potatoes.

This photo was taken while prepping the iholena to use as breakfast “potatoes.” After peeling, I cut them into cubes. If I want to freeze some iholena for later use, this is also how I prepare them.

And that’s it, folks. Easy!

For my version of breakfast potatoes, I used olive oil to pan-fried some iholena with onions and garlic, then sprinkled it with salt, pepper, and fresh rosemary from the garden. Again, it’s so easy that I can’t believe it took me this long to use bananas in cooking.

If you want to get a bit more adventurous, try this honey mustard chicken and potatoes recipe. It’s a simple recipe, comes together quickly, and can be prepared in a single pan. Here’s how my version turned out.

I hope this inspires you to experiment with iholena in your own kitchen—and perhaps your own backyard!

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