Also Known As: Bananier Nain, Canbur, Curro, Plantain
Popular Varieties: Cavendish, Dwarf Cavendish
Store At: Best stored at 10-18°C
Comes From: South America (Belize, Brazil), Central America (Trinidad and Tobago), Caribbean, Phillipines, Ivory Coast
Seasonality: All Year Round (Natural, not commercially forced)
The widely recognised and modest banana is one of the best selling items in any supermarket; children are introduced to them at the earliest age possible, and they are popular with all ages. But, to think this is all there is to the banana would be a mistake; they are one of the most important fruit crops in the world.
While we only see yellow bananas in the supermarket, this is not the only type, they actually come in many colours, including red and purple! There are different varieties, which can differ in their levels of sweetness and firmness. A related variety, the plantain, is used unripe for cooking in many tropical countries, as the staple starch crop, like potatoes are the staple starch crop in Western Countries.
What is a banana plant? A banana plant looks like a tree, but it's not - it's actually a fast growing herb, or herbaceous perennial! It's latin name is Musa, and is a member of the family Musaceae, which also contains Plaintain, a very similar fruit that is a staple food source in many countries. The term banana refers to the plant, and also the fruit (the type of fruit is actually a false berry). What we refer to as a bunch of bananas is properly called a hand (i)(which each banana called a finger), with several of these hands forming a bunch, and several of these bunches together on the tree are called a stem, which can weigh up to 50kg!
The banana plant grows from what is called a corm (abbr), with a succulent stem rising up and throwing out huge leaves which can be as large as 9 feet long and 2 feet wide, reaching a height of 6-7 metres. The fruiting stem is produced from the middle of these leaves, as the growing tip of the plant. Most bananas do not contain seeds; they do not propagate in this way, instead, suckers (abbr) rise from the corm, the oldest one replacing the main stem which is cut down during fruit harvest (after producing fruit, the stem dies anyway); the plant can live in this way for many years, and these suckers can be removed and developed into new plants.
Bananas help! An interesting effect bananas have is that of helping other fruit to ripen. When they ripen, bananas produce a gas called ethylene, which is involved in the ripening process of pretty much all fruit. This ethylene gas in turn speeds up the ripening process in fruit, so if you want to ripen some fruit quickly, put them in a paper bag with some bananas!
Whilst they are one of the most popular fruits in the world, banana farmers aren't rich, because they don't usually receive a good price for their crop. This led to bananas being one of the first "Fair Trade" crops available, where the farmers are paid a fairer price, and may use this to their advantage to produce a better crop, using less fertilisers for example.
The first mention of bananas in history is in Buddhist texts dating back to 600BC, and Alexander the Great discovered them in India in around 320 BC. The earliest evidence of a plantation used to grow them commercially dates back to China in 200AD.
They are believed to have been brought back to Europe for the first time in the 10th Century, and in the 16th Century Portuguese sailors carried the plant from the coast of West Africa to South America. Bananas found in cultivation in the Pacific are thought to have originally come from Indonesia. Of course since them, some degree of breeding has changed them. Bananas originally contained seeds ranging in size from 3 to 16mm in diameter, but since then seedless varieties have been bred for commercial production.
Eating! Most bananas we eat in the Western World are eaten as a dessert, usually raw on their own, but they can used in fruit salads, sandwiches, custards, ice cream, bread and pies. They can also be used to make jam, or cooked, and lets not forget banana puree baby food. There are many recipes using bananas. But that's not all...
In tropical countries, unripe bananas or plantain are baked and eaten as a staple starch food. Also, the new shoots of young plants can be cooked as a green vegetable. The flower is also used, either being served raw, or cooked in soups or curries.
In Africa, ripe bananas are made into beer and wine!. Dried green plantain varieties can be ground into a fine mixture and roasted, and used as coffee.
- Bananas on Wikipedia
- Black Sigatoka in Bananas
- Can this fruit be saved?
- Geest Bananas
- Panama Disease: a classic and destructive disease of bananas