Naturally sweet, full of nutrition, versatile, and easy to use in many healthy banana recipes. I have so much love and appreciation for bananas. They are a true gift from the gods!
Bananas are the world's No.4 dietary staple after rice, wheat, and corn. Hundreds of millions of people eat them. They are the most widely eaten fruit in the world and are a major source of food for people.
Tracing the historical roots of bananas
Bananas, among the world's earliest cultivated crops, have a history that spans thousands of years. Archaeological evidence reveals their cultivation in the highlands of New Guinea over 7,000 years ago and the breeding of various Musa varieties in Southeast Asia's Mekong Delta region more than 10,000 years ago.
Arab traders of the first or second millennium B.C. played a pivotal role in spreading bananas. They brought banana suckers from Southeast Asia to the Middle East and the eastern coast of Africa. Subsequently, Swahili communities along Africa's coast exchanged the fruit with Bantu communities, leading to the distribution of bananas across western Africa.
This process unfolded so long ago that regions like Uganda and the Congo basin transformed into secondary centers of genetic diversity for bananas.
The Portuguese encountered bananas on the Atlantic coast of Africa and began cultivating them on the Canary Islands. This marked the beginning of bananas' journey across the ocean, facilitated by Spanish missionaries who introduced the fruit to the New World. In 1516, the Reverend Father Friar Tomas de Berlandga brought a "special kind" of fruit from Gran Canaria to Santa Domingo, initiating the fruit's flourishing presence that extended to settlements in Hispaniola and beyond.
This historical journey has left an enduring impact on global cuisine and agricultural practices.
Seasonality of bananas
Bananas are the No. 1 fruit export in the world. The worldwide trade of bananas is worth $4 billion a year. About 80 million tons of bananas are produced around the world. Less than 20 percent is exported, with 15 percent exported to the United States, Europe, and Japan.
Bananas have traditionally been a cash crop for banana companies in Central America, northern South America, and the islands of the Caribbean. In 1954, the price of bananas rose so high it was called "green gold." Today bananas are grown in 123 countries.
India, Ecuador, Brazil, and China collectively produce half the world's banana crop. Ecuador is the only leading producer that is oriented towards producing bananas for the export market. India and Brazil, the world's leading producers, export very little.
Worldwide more and more countries are raising bananas which means the price is getting lower and lower and smaller producers have a rougher time. Since 1998, worldwide demand has dropped. This has led to overproduction and a further drop in prices.
Varieties of Bananas
Bananas exhibit a remarkable diversity, boasting an array of over a hundred distinct varieties. These cultivars are bestowed with names like Pelipita, Tomola, Red Yade, Poupoulou, and Mbouroukou, each possessing unique characteristics that set them apart.
From elongated and slender to short and stout, their physical appearances vary widely. Notably, many of these varieties remain locally cherished due to their susceptibility to bruising.
Here's a glimpse into some of the banana varieties:
- Reddish Bananas: Palle bananas and red Orinoco, sought-after in Africa and the Caribbean, exhibit a reddish hue.
- Tiger Plantains: Tiger plantains display a distinctive dark green skin adorned with white stripes.
- Maantoke Bananas: In Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and other regions of sub-Saharan Africa, maantoke bananas are relished both in their raw form and as ingredients for porridge. Additionally, they are transformed into banana beer through fermentation, constituting a substantial portion of the diet in these areas.
- Cavendish Variety: The iconic Cavendish variety, featuring a lustrous, golden-yellow exterior, dominates supermarket shelves. Known for uniformity in size, a thick peel, and ease of peeling, the Cavendish, although popular, has been critiqued for its mild and overly sweet taste.
- Gros Michel (Big Mike): The supermarket staple until the 1950s, the Gros Michel, meaning "Big Mike," faced global devastation due to the Panama disease. Its susceptibility to the disease led to a decline in its prevalence.
Cavendish's Triumph and Vulnerability:
Emerging as a dominant export banana after the Panama disease crisis, the Cavendish proved resilient to the disease. However, it encounters its own vulnerabilities. Lacking seeds or pollen for breeding, the Cavendish cannot readily enhance its disease resistance. This raises concerns that it too might eventually succumb to a catastrophic disease outbreak, mirroring the fate of its predecessor, the Gros Michel.
The world of bananas is a rich tapestry woven with a multitude of flavors, textures, and histories, where each variety of bananas has a story to tell.
Nutritional content of bananas
Bananas contain a fair amount of fiber, as well as several antioxidants. One standard banana also contains:
- Potassium: 9% of the RDI
- Vitamin B6: 33% of the RDI
- Vitamin C: 11% of the RDI
- Magnesium: 8% of the RDI
- Copper: 10% of the RDI
- Manganese: 14% of the RDI
- Net carbohydrates: 24 grams
- Fiber: 3.1 grams
- Protein: 1.3 grams
- Fat: 0.4 grams
Health benefits of bananas
Supports heart health
Potassium is a mineral that is essential for heart health — especially blood pressure control. Despite its importance, few people get enough potassium in their diet.
Bananas are a great dietary source of potassium. One medium-sized banana contains 9% of the RDI. A potassium-rich diet can help lower blood pressure, and people who eat plenty of potassium have up to a 27% lower risk of heart disease.
Furthermore, bananas contain a decent amount of magnesium, which is also important for heart health.
Improve digestive health
Dietary fiber has been linked to many health benefits, including improved digestion. A medium-sized banana has about 3 grams of fiber, making bananas a fairly good fiber source.
Bananas contain two main types of fiber:
- Pectin: Decreases as the banana ripens.
- Resistant starch: Found in unripe bananas.
Resistant starch escapes digestion and ends up in your large intestine, where it becomes food for the beneficial bacteria in your gut
Energising Sports food
Bananas are easy to digest and the food of choice for many professional athletes when they are competing because they provide quick energy and potassium lost during exercise.
Versatility of banana recipes
Bananas are great in muffins, pancakes, bread, and cakes. Blend them into smoothies. Freeze bananas and blend for healthy ice cream. The possibilities are limitless.
Interesting banana facts
Wild Bananas in Thailand are pollinated by bats
In the lush landscapes of Thailand, the dance of nature unfolds as wild bananas find their pollinators in the night skies. Bats play an integral role in this intricate ecosystem, fluttering from blossom to blossom as they sip nectar and inadvertently transfer pollen from one wild banana flower to another.
As the moonlight bathes the forests, these winged pollinators ensure the survival of Thailand's wild bananas, forging a delicate connection between the natural world and the unseen forces that sustain it.