I’ve personally tested a variety of banana leaf substitutes to find the best one for every cooking occasion.
Whether you’re in need of a last-minute pantry substitute, or can’t find banana leaf anywhere in your local area – we’ve got you covered.
Parchment paper or aluminium foil are the most accessible substitute for banana leaves. They’re affordable and you probably already have them. Corns husks are also pretty easy to source and will add some flavor. Want to stick with Asian ingredients? Try pandan leaves.
I made several batches of baked salmon (flavoured simply with lemon if you’re interested) to test out several banana leaf substitutes.
Banana leaves aren’t for eating, but they’re used to wrap different foods during cooking to trap the juices and protect the flavor, similar to the way you’d use foil.
They impart a subtle but delicious sweet and grassy aroma to the food and you can use them them for baking, steaming, grilling, frying, or even just for serving. They’re a great option if you’re practicing a green lifestyle because the leaves are biodegradable and compostable.
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Dried or fresh
|Fresh ones have the best flavor
|Wont impart any flavor
|Wont impart any flavor
|Have a sweet, nutty taste
|You can eat these
Corn husks are my go-to substitute for banana leaves because they’re easy to find and also biodegradable. Dried corn husks are traditionally for wrapping tamales, but you can also use fresh ones as a replacement for banana leaves.
If you opt for fresh husks, you’ll need to wash them first to get any dirt off. And for dried husks, you’ll need to soak them in water for 10 minutes to soften them.
Both varieties will impart a mildly sweet corn flavor to your food, with a touch of smokiness. I loved the flavor with my salmon!
How to substitute: replace 1 banana leaf with a few corn husks.
If you’re in the Asian market and can’t find banana leaves, pandan leaves are another great swap. They have a fabulous floral aroma with notes of rose and vanilla that will infuse into your foods as it cooks.
They’re narrower than banana leaves, so you night need to patch a few together to make a full wrapper. But they’re soft and flexible, so easy to work with in that sense.
You can get them fresh, frozen, or dried. But the fresh ones have the most flavor. Freezing or drying the leaves mutes the flavors quite a lot.
How to substitute: replace 1 banana leaf with a few pandan leaves
If you’re in a pinch, good old aluminum foil can replace banana leaves. You’ll almost certainly already have some in your kitchen (and if not, it’s time for a stock-up shop!), and it’s easy to wrap around any shaped food.
One big difference with foil and banana leaves is that foil isn’t porous, so if you’re planning to steam your food you’ll want to poke a few small holes in the foil to let the steam penetrate. Another thing to consider is that foil is very easy to rupture accidentally, and if a hole appears in the bottom you could lose all your sauce.
You also wont get any flavor from the foil.
Aluminium foil isn’t biodegradable, but it is recyclable if you wash it before hand. Don’t throw dirty foil into the recycle bin.
How to substitute: replace 1 banana leaf with 1 sheet of aluminum foil.
Parchment paper is another handy option you can use in place of banana leaves.
The strength of parchment paper lies in its durability. This stuff can handle high temperatures like a champ, making it a perfect ally in your baking or roasting adventures.
Just remember not to confuse it with wax paper, which is cheaper but definitely won’t be able to handle high heat cooking. You can tell the difference by feel, wax paper will feel slightly tacky to touch.
Like with foil, you wont get any extra flavor with parchment paper. And most brands aren’t recyclable or compostable yet.
How to substitute: replace 1 banana leaf with 1 sheet of parchment paper
If you happen to have a fig tree in your backyard, you’re in luck. You can use the leaves to stand-in for banana leaves.
They’re typically smaller than banana leaves, but they can easily handle medium-sized cuts of proteins. And they’ll infuse your dishes with a mildly sweet nutty flavor (that was fabulous with my salmon).
You can use them straight off the tree, thanks to their natural softness and flexibility. But you will want to give them a good wash before you start wrapping!
How to substitute: replace 1 banana leaf with a few fig leaves
Grape leaves aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think about banana leaf substitutes, but they’re a decent alternative.
They’re used for wrapping food in Mediterranean cuisine and are often sold jarred and soaked in a brine. The brine gives them a tangy taste thats pretty different to the flavor of banana leaves.
Don’t let that deter you, though because a massive advantage to grape leaves is that you can eat them!
How to substitute: replace 1 banana leaf with a few grape leaves.
Other substitutes to consider
The suggestions above feature my top picks for banana leaf substitutes, but the list doesn’t end there! Here are more alternatives that are worth a shot if you can find them:
- Hoja santa – Native to the Americas, Hoja Santa leaves are large, heart-shaped, and packed with a complex flavor profile. They’ll impart a unique mix of eucalyptus, anise, and mint to your dishes. But they can be tricky to find.
- Ti leaf – these are commonly used in Hawaiian cuisine. The leaves are large and robust, although they won’t infuse as much flavor into the food as banana leaves. You can find them in florists!
- Lotus leaf – these leaves are also typically used in Asian cooking. They are large and strong, perfect for wrapping food items, and contribute a delicate, sweet, and tea-like fragrance to the dishes.
Substitutes to avoid
There were loads of suggestions for banana leaf substitutes across the web, but not all of them were good suggestions.
Collard greens could technically work, but they’ll cook along with your food and if you’re baking or grilling, they’ll likely burn. Nori sheets were also suggested but they have the same problem as collard greens. They’ll cook during the process and break down really easily, leaving your food exposed.
Best Banana Leaf Substitutes + 2 To Avoid
- corn husks
- pandan leaves
- 1 sheet aluminum foil
- 1 sheet parchment paper
- figf leaves
- grape leaves
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen banana leaf substitutes at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.