Tonya Ifill preparing another batch of green bananas. (Picture by Ricardo Leacock.)
IF ONE ENTREPRENEUR has her way, more consumers will be setting aside their wheat, cassava and sweet potato products for those made with green bananas.
Tonya Ifill, owner and operator of Carlesa’s Enterprises pioneered flour and pasta made from the unripened fruit.
Ifill was attending Agrofest when she spoke with BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY.
She got the idea while participating in an agro-processing course at the Guyana School of Agriculture. As a group project, participants had to come up with a product that was new to the South American country.
“I did sweet potato and brown rice pasta and got my cousin to export a pasta machine from Canada and I was ready. When I came back [to Barbados], I was looking for something different to work with instead of the same sweet potato and cassava. I researched green bananas, asked around for some and started my trials and it took off from there,” she said.
Initially, there were some challenges with the pasta – she did not have a recipe. After repeated trial and error, Ifill found the correct ratio of flour to water.
“I made 20 attempts before I got it right. The amount of water is crucial. The temperature of the water determines how your pasta comes out – if it’s too hot, the pasta will crumble. After I got it right, I made a note,” said Ifill.
The former The Lester Vaughan School student studied agricultural science before moving on to the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic. She works mainly from her Bagatelle, St James home with her mother and uncle assisting with the peeling. They also help out in the exhibition booths.
There were no financial challenges setting up Carlesa’s, but Ifill received assistance with labels from the Youth Entrepreneurship Scheme.
So far, the micro businesswoman has been able to meet the demand for banana flour and is hoping it is still there when she increases production.
The process is simple: peeling, drying and milling.
“Normally, I do more flour than pasta because that’s where the demand is, but I always set aside a batch of pasta in case I get an order. Customers say they can do more with the flour than with pasta. They can make pancakes, bakes, porridge, use it for frying or in shakes.
“I made a cake at NIFCA with the flour and won a gold medal,” Ifill said.
“Anything you do with normal flour you can do with banana flour. You are replacing the white flour with a healthy alternative. It has a sweet taste but there’s no sugar. I’ve found that when you dry out products, you get a little sweetness.
“You don’t need to cook it as long as normal pasta, and it is egg and gluten free.”
She added: “Initially, people were sceptical when they heard about banana pasta, but after sampling, they realise it’s not that bad. It’s a whole wheat flavour. We only use green bananas one way and that’s the mindset we have. All that changes after tasting it.”
She wants to expand the range and get the products in supermarkets.
“I want to do other products or recipes using the green banana flour. You can do fishcakes, muffins and cupcakes and people have even told me to call them when I start making sweetbread.
“Customers prefer the baked goods rather than the flour. That’s not a challenge as I will work along with someone, a baker or someone who is accustomed baking and see where we can go.”