Banana leaves and plantain leaves are a traditional wrapping material foods such as tamales and hallacas and many other dishes. They also add a subtle but essential aroma to the dish. Banana leaves are fairly widely available in specialist fresh food shops. The leaves can exceed 2 meters in length.
Plantain leaves are similar to banana leaves but they are larger and stronger which reduces the wastage considerably. In Latin-America, they are lightly smoked over an open fire and this adds to their toughness, their keeping properties and the flavour they impart. With plantain leaves there is a lot less waste (pieces too small to use) than with banana leaves, which makes them more economical despite the slightly higher price. Plantain leaves are far less easy to find but we have secured a supply of authentic smoked Venezuelan plantain leaves.
We use plantain leaves in preference to banana leaves for our Hallacas.
The leaves must be washed before use. Dilute vinegar applied with a cloth (rub with the grain to avoid breaking the leaf) followed by a clean water rinse works well.