At first glance, Ensete ventricosum may look like a banana plant, with huge green fronds and a towering, thick brown pseudostem. But if you peel these orange, banana-cousin fruits, watch out: Instead of a pale, mushy interior, this banana-like fruit consists almost entirely of large, teeth-cracking, black seeds.
E. ventricosum, colloquially known as “enset,” has gained such a reputation for its misleading fruit that it is often called “the false banana.”
And yet, enset feeds 20 million people in Ethiopia. Those who cultivate this banana cousin often grow dozens of these plants in fields very close to their homes. When the time comes to harvest an enset plant—usually when the plant is six or seven years old and just before it flowers—a farmer will cut it down, chop up part of the root, scrape out the inside of the stem, and massage these plant chunks by hand into a pulp. This pulp is then left to ferment inside of a leaf-lined pit. The final product is called “kocho,” and it can be served as a porridge-like dish, with meat or milk, or pounded into a kind of bread.
One of the most interesting and important facts surrounding enset’s odd and complex transformation is the fact that most of the people who prepare enset and sell enset are women. Women often determine which varieties of enset are planted, and they are usually the ones who sell kocho at the market. This makes this crop incredibly important to livelihoods, especially to families where women are the head of the household.