Bananas are elliptically shaped fruits “prepackaged” by Nature, featuring a firm, creamy flesh gift-wrapped inside a thick inedible peel. The banana plant grows 10 to 26 feet in height and belongs to the family Musaceae. Banana fruits grow in clusters of 50 to 150, with individual fruits grouped in bunches, known as “hands,” of 10 to 25 bananas.
Bananas abound in hundreds of edible varieties that fall under two distinct species: the sweet banana (Musa sapienta, Musa nana) and the plantain banana (Musa paradisiacal). Sweet bananas vary in size and color.
While we are accustomed to thinking of sweet bananas as having yellow skins, they can also feature red, pink, purple, and black tones when ripe. Their flavor and texture range with some varieties being sweet while others have starchier characteristics. Plantain bananas are usually cooked and considered more like a vegetable due to their starchier qualities; they have a higher beta-carotene concentration than most sweet bananas.
Bananas are thought to have originated in Malaysia around 4,000 years ago. From there, they spread throughout the Philippines and India, where in 327 B.C. Alexander the Great’s army recorded them being grown.
Bananas were introduced to Africa by Arabian traders and discovered there in 1482 A.D. by Portuguese explorers who took them to the Americas, the place where the majority of bananas are now produced.
Bananas were not brought to the United States for sale in markets until the latter part of the 19th century and were initially only enjoyed by people in the seacoast towns where the banana schooners docked; because of the fruit’s fragility, they were unable to be transported far.
Since the development of refrigeration and rapid transport in the 20th century, bananas have become widely available. Today, bananas grow in most tropical and subtropical regions with the main commercial producers including Costa Rica, Mexico, Ecuador, and Brazil.
Did you know?
Bananas are very high in potassium, in fact they are highly recommended by doctors for patients whose potassium is low. One large banana, which is about (9 inches) in length, has (602 mg) of potassium and only carries (140) calories, also that same banana has (2) grams of protein and (4) grams of fiber. This is why the banana is considered one of the most important foods to boost the health of malnourished children and this is why sport athletes also like these power giants. If you are looking to reduce sodium in your diet, you cannot go wrong with a banana it only has (2) mgs of sodium.
As for the carbohydrates contain there is only (36) grams in a large banana, vitamins and minerals are abundant in the banana, offering (123) I.U. of vitamin A for the large size. A full range of B vitamins are present with (.07) mg of Thiamine, (.15) mg of Riboflavin, (.82) mg Niacin, (.88) mg vitamin (B6), and (29) mcg of Folic Acid. There are even (13.8) mg of vitamin C. On the mineral scale Calcium counts in at (9.2) mg, Magnesium (44.1) mg, with trace amount of iron and zinc. Clearly if we have to put all of the nutritional figures together, it shows why the banana is among the healthiest of fruits. On the other hand, the plantain, when it is cooked, rates slightly higher on the nutritional scale in vitamins and minerals but similar to the banana in protein and fiber content.
Protect Your Eyesight
Your mother may have told you carrots would keep your eyes bright as a child, but as an adult, it looks like fruit is even more important for keeping your sight. In fact, three (3) servings of fruit may sound like a lot to eat each day, but by simply tossing a banana into your morning smoothie or slicing it over your cereal, or in your yogurt means you have reached this goal.
Build Better Bones with Bananas
By eating bananas daily, you can build better bones, yes, enjoying bananas frequently as part of your healthy way of eating can help improve your body’s ability to absorb calcium via several mechanisms. Bananas are an exceptionally rich source of fructooligosaccharide, a compound called a prebiotic because it nourishes probiotic is a (friendly) bacteria in the colon. These beneficial bacteria produce vitamins and digestive enzymes that improve our ability to absorb nutrients, plus compounds that protect us against unfriendly microorganisms. When these friendly bacteria ferment fructooligosaccharides, not only do numbers of probiotic bacteria increase, but so does the body’s ability to absorb calcium. In addition, gastrointestinal transit time is lessened, decreasing the risk of colon cancer.
Green bananas contain indigestible (to humans) short chain fatty acids that are a favorite food of the cells that make up the lining of the intestines. When these cells are well nourished and healthy, the body’s ability to absorb nutrients such as calcium can increase dramatically. Some banana cultivars are also rich in provitamin A carotenoids, which have been shown to protect against chronic disease, including certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. How to identify which bananas contain the most carotenoids? Check the color of their edible flesh. Bananas whose flesh is more golden contain the most carotenoids.
How to Select and Store
Since bananas are picked off the tree while they’re still green, it’s not unusual to see them this color in the store. Base your choice of bananas depending upon when you want to consume them. Bananas with more green coloration will take longer to ripen than those more yellow in hue and/or with brown spots.
Bananas should be firm, but not too hard, bright in appearance, and free from bruises or other injuries. Their stems and tips should be intact. The size of the banana does not affect its quality, so simply choose the size that best meets your needs.
While bananas look resilient, they’re actually very fragile and care should be taken in their storage. They should be left to ripen at room temperature and should not be subjected to overly hot or cold temperatures. Unripe bananas should not be placed in the refrigerator, as this will interrupt the ripening process to such an extent that it will not be able to resume even if the bananas are returned to room temperature.
If you need to hasten the ripening process, you can place bananas in a paper bag or wrap them in newspaper, adding an apple to accelerate the process. Ripe bananas that will not be consumed for a few days can be placed in the refrigerator. While their peel may darken, the flesh will not be affected. For maximum flavor when consuming refrigerated bananas, remove them from the refrigerator and allow them to come back to room temperature. For the most antioxidants, eat fully ripened fruit:
Bananas and Latex Allergy
Like avocados and chestnuts, bananas and plantain contain substances called chitinases that are associated with the latex-fruit allergy syndrome. There is strong evidence of the cross-reaction between latex and these foods. If you have a latex allergy, you may very likely be allergic to these foods as well. Processing the fruit with ethylene gas increases these enzymes; organic produce not treated with gas will have fewer allergy-causing compounds. In addition, cooking the food may deactivate the enzymes.
How to Enjoy
In addition to being eaten raw, bananas are a wonderful addition to a variety of recipes from salads to baked goods.
A few quick serving ideas:
- A peanut butter, jelly and banana sandwich drizzled with honey is an all-time favorite comfort food for children and adults alike (this was a favorite of Elvis).
- Add chopped bananas, walnuts, and maple syrup to oatmeal or porridge.
- Banana bread, muffins, and cake are an all time favorite.