Bananas are one of the most popular fruits in the world. They are the most purchased fruit in the United States. This could be in part due to the price of bananas, selling at an average of 57 cents per pound in 2020. However, one cannot overlook the amazing nutritional value.
Bananas are extremely versatile. They are used in all types of meals, from breakfast to desserts!
In some countries, such as Mexico, bananas are commonly used for cooking purposes.
In other parts of the world, like America, we are mostly exposed to the Cavendish banana. This type of banana is small and green when unripe, changing to yellow when ready to eat. Cavendish bananas are most popular for snacks and desserts!
The banana comes in an array of sizes and colors, ranging from the typically recognized green and yellow to red, brown, and even purple when ripened!
Bananas are currently harvested in more than 135 countries. While these variations are mostly cultivated for the fruit itself, bananas can be used to make fiber, wine, and beer. If you find yourself craving a sweet treat, bananas make a great snack.
Bananas are not only delicious but also very healthy. Bananas are high in essential vitamins such as potassium, magnesium, and B6, containing little protein and almost no fat. Bananas are commonly introduced as a first food for babies due to their easy digestion and low allergy rate.
Interesting Banana Facts
- The banana plant is often mistaken for a tree, yet the “trunk” is, in fact, a false stem. The banana is actually a plant.
- As far as herbaceous flowering plants (which include perennials and ferns) go, the banana plant is the largest. The average plant is around 16 feet tall, with ‘Dwarf Cavendish’ plants being smaller at around 10 feet and ‘Gros Michel’ plants growing as tall as 23 feet or higher!
- The banana is made up of approximately 75% water and has essential nutrients which can help to lower blood sugar in diabetics.
Most people are astounded to learn that the banana is classified as a berry. The names of fruit can be deceiving because most of our food sources were named before botanists classified them.
Bananas are formed from a flower containing a single ovary. Furthermore, the fruit contains small seeds inside a fleshy middle and thus, fulfills the exact requirements to make bananas a berry.
Where Bananas Come From
Bananas are as varied and diverse as the geographical locations they come from. Bananas originated in Southeast Asia and were far from the variety we most commonly see today!
The banana was first discovered in the Octavius Augustus time from around 63 to 14 B.C. The fruit of Musa acuminata is from the word acuminata, which means long-pointed and refers to the leaves of the fruit. Whereas the term Musa refers to the personal physician Antonius Musa, who is believed to have encouraged the cultivation of the fruit.
Bananas made their way upwards from New Guinea into Southeast Asia. From here, the banana would travel through Asia and Africa, into the Arab countries, and later be introduced by Portuguese travelers in America.
Types of Bananas
Although America produces less than one percent of the total world’s bananas, Americans consume more than 3 million tons of bananas annually. This is in large part because bananas need a warm, tropical climate to grow.
Bananas are a super fruit in the sense that nothing about them is what it seems. There are as many different types of bananas as there are uses for the food. It is commonly believed that there are more than 1,000 varieties of bananas.
Wild types of bananas have a thicker peel as well as numerous large and hard seeds. Modern cultivated bananas are bred with tiny seeds that are soft to better suit raw fruit consumption.
I would not suggest grabbing a wild banana from the bunch and munching down if I were you. Of the estimated 1,000 banana variations, approximately half are edible. While there is no known poisonous banana, you might need to see a dentist after biting into some wild ones!
Commonly Known Bananas
As previously stated, the most common and mass-produced banana is the Cavendish. Named for Duke William George Spencer Cavendish, these bananas are medium-sized, sweet, and soft. They are also referred to as dessert bananas.
There are other well-known bananas worldwide that are used for different meals.
Lady Finger bananas are smaller and sweeter than Cavendish bananas. Due to the small size of the plant, the bunches of Lady Fingers grow at almost right angles. This causes the bunches at the bottom to twist dramatically.
People tend to place a great amount of worth on how a product looks. Because of the angle at which Lady Fingers grow, the bottom side of the bunches tends to not go to market. Meaning we pay for that which we buy and that which is wasted.
Lady Finger bananas house a subgroup of Baby (Niño) Bananas which are commercially the smallest banana at only 3 inches, further proving size isn’t everything!
Plantains are most common in Central America and Central Africa. Plantains are used in cooking and are not often consumed raw due to the high content of starch.
There are 7 subgroups of plantains and the term can be applied to any cultivar that is usually eaten after cooking.
This particular banana has been cultivated in Honduras and is bred to be pest-resistant. This banana provides the best of both worlds. It can be cooked when green and eaten raw when ripe.
The idea for this banana is to replace the more commonly known Cavendish. While it is quite popular in Australia, it is struggling to gain popularity in North America.
Blue Java bananas are named for their beautiful blue skin. The creamy, white flesh of the fruit provides a sweet vanilla flavor.
This banana is native to Southeast Asia and can tolerate a colder climate. While these bananas are ideal for dessert, they are also quite popular as ornamental plants.
5. Red Banana
Red bananas are, as the name describes them, with reddish skin and pink flesh. Sweeter and softer than Cavendish bananas, the red banana gives a flavor reminiscent of raspberries.
Color Me Healthy
Have you ever considered which is the healthiest type of banana? With so many cultivars, flavors, sizes, and colors, there must be one that is better than the other.
Bananas can be eaten at all stages of ripeness, from the very green to brown and mushy! However, did you know that as the banana passes through each stage of development, the nutrients held inside change?
Green for Go
As a green banana, you might find the taste a bit bitter. There is loads of starch in this stage and probiotic bacteria, but a low amount of sugar.
As the starch converts to sugars, the yellow banana has sweet and soft flesh. These bananas are the most popular and full of antioxidants.
Brown and Beautiful
While most people are throwing these bananas to the worms, the brown bananas have the highest level of antioxidants and the sweetest flavor. However, as all of the starch is now broken down, these bananas should be avoided by diabetics.
Bananas on Trial
The most popular fruit in America is facing extinction. The Cavendish banana is essentially a clone over and over again. This particular cultivar is created so that it cannot reproduce sexually. There is a lack of diversity within the Cavendish cultivar. This, combined with a lack of other species around where they are planted causes the Cavendish to be very vulnerable.
The Panama Disease is currently causing the Cavendish banana to face extinction. This disease is particularly devastating, and due to the cloned nature of the Cavendish banana, what affects one plant can ultimately affect all of them.
This disease is a soil fungus, and while Australia seems to be hit the hardest, the only thing protecting the South American farms are the oceans. Recent events have shown us just how quickly diseases can cross oceans in modern times! As it stands, the Cavendish may be nearing the end of its lifetime.
Bananas in Our Future
Bananas have proven their resilience through the years, as well as their diversity.
Our current favorite cannot and would not exist without human intervention. It neither grows nor reproduces naturally. The final product we receive is also a combination of human methods. The entire ripening process is controlled by man.
All in all, the banana industry is providing an income for more than 400 million people worldwide!
Banana leaves have become largely popular in replacing plastic as an eco-friendly packaging solution.
In addition to being eaten raw, bananas have many uses. They can be sliced and added to cereals or oatmeal. They also make a delicious addition to a smoothie.
Even dishes such as banana chips, fried bananas, and curry are finding a place on tables across the globe.
From the Plant to Your Table
With the Panama Disease threatening the continuation of our most popular banana, maybe you would consider trying a different type of banana! Ask your local grocer about the different possibilities!
As the summer months warm us up, bananas become even more popular. Why don’t you add a fruit salad to your barbeque menu this year? You can even fry up a few plantains instead of french fries! Whatever you decide, snack or burger topping, there is a banana out there ripening up just for you!