Whenever I type the word “bananas”, I hear a certain Gwen Stefani song in my head… This post is going to be painful to type!
I just wanted to put up a quick post on one of Americans’ favorite fruits. According to the USDA, bananas are the most consumed fruit in the United States, accounting for 25% of fresh fruit consumption. Bananas are rich in potassium, magnesium, and manganese, and while some who embrace a low-carb lifestyle may find fault with them, they are without doubt a whole, real, food. While our modern domesticated varieties are very different from wild bananas (and no, the shape of the banana is NOT proof of creationism!), bananas can be part of a healthy diet for most people. Bananas are a staple of many traditional diets, and their leaves are also used for cooking in many cultures.
In America, the word banana is synonymous with the Cavendish banana, but this is certainly not the only variety and many argue it is not the best. “Best” is, of course, subjective. Choosing a “best” banana is like choosing a best apple*. Seasonality and freshness matter, as does personal preference.
Variety makes life interesting. Genetic variation is necessary for evolution. Food variation makes out diet more interesting (and broadens our nutrient intake while minimizing exposure to potential toxins). Over the past year or so, I’ve made it my goal to try as many varieties of banana as I can find- so far I’m doing pretty well.
Cavendish bananas (a triploid variant of Musa acuminata) can be found just about anywhere. Grocery stores, cafeterias, and many gas stations have these ubiquitous yellow fruit on offer year round.
At my local grocery store I can usually find other Musa varieties. Next to a small selection of yucca, aloe, and other somewhat “exotic” offerings I can almost always find plantains (a hybrid between Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana). They usually have green plantains, sometimes yellow, and occasionally brown. The color varies with ripeness. Green plantains are the least ripe and are not sweet, while yellow- or even better, dark brown- plantains are sweet. Plantains are best eaten cooked. (Personally I love to fry them up in coconut oil. The greens are great with a squeeze of lime, some chile, and salt, while the sweeter fruits are good plain or with a shake of cinnamon or cocoa.)
Occasionally my local supermarket has Niño bananas ( a diploid variant of Musa acuminata known by a number of other names), and I can almost always find these at the Asian supermarket I like to visit. I find that these small bananas have a similar taste, though slightly different texture, than Cavendish bananas.
At my favorite Asian supermarket I’ve also found Burro bananas, which (at least to me) seem like a hybrid between plantains and Cavendish. It can be eaten cooked or raw. To me they have a slightly tart, almost lemony, flavor when eaten fresh. They have a distinct shape- shorter than Cavendish and very angular.
This weekend, I found yet another type of banana to add to my list. I was visiting a friend on Long Island and took a trip through an ethnic supermarket that caters to the local Hispanic population. Like so many ethnic supermarkets, this store had a fabulous produce section- with a great variety of fruits & vegetables, all really fresh and reasonably priced. The meat department was also extensive, with lots of interesting cuts, including goat! (A friend and I were recently bemoaning the fact that you can rarely find goat in the US- I’ve only ever had it when my family bought whole animals from a local farmer).
At the store on Long Island I finally came across Red bananas (another triploid variant of Musa acuminata). As the name suggests, this variety is a dark red, almost purple. Otherwise, it looks like a slightly smaller Cavendish. I picked up a couple but I haven’t tried them yet as I don’t think they’re quite ripe.
I only have to find one more type of banana to knock off every variety on this list, and I will continue to keep my eyes open for other, unusual varieties. Some of my family members have tried Manzano bananas while visiting Hawaii, and as the name promises, they do taste a bit like apples (Manzano is spanish for apple).
Actually, it looks like Hawaii has many interesting types of bananas, and I’m in desperate need of some sunshine and relaxation… looks like it’s time to go look at plane tickets to Hawaii!!
I wish… I start an EMS elective tomorrow. I’m looking forward to working with first responders as we pick up and transport patients to our University Hospital. From all reports, this is an exciting elective!
*When it comes to apples, GoldRush are, without a doubt, my favorite, but the “best” apple on any given day depends on what is fresh, what is in season, and what you’re in the mood for!