Banana species are primarily distinguished on the basis of whether they can be eaten raw. While dessert bananas including Musa acuminata Colla and Musa × paradisiaca can be eaten raw, plantains (cooking bananas or green bananas) and Ensete ventricosum (ensete or Ethiopian bananas) must be cooked before eating. Banana peel is becoming increasingly popular in and out of the kitchen.
What do bananas taste like; are they sweet? As bananas ripen, they become sweeter, and their consistency changes from firm to floury to creamy. Unripe or semi-ripe bananas will taste more like a slightly flavorsome vegetable and will leave a furry taste in your mouth (astringency).
Bananas are an ideal snack in between meals and are a practical raw food to eat on the go thanks to their peel. Alongside apples, bananas are one of the most commonly eaten fruits in the world. They are popular in smoothies, muesli, milkshakes, and all kinds of desserts. They can be enjoyed plain with (soy) yogurt, chopped up in fruit salads, dried as banana chips, baked in pastry, or made into banana splits. They are also popular in banana bread and as an egg substitute in vegan baking.
Banana powder made from dehydrated bananas is particularly great for enriching the flavor of shakes and smoothies.
If you like to experiment, you might try adding bananas to spicy curry dishes. Ideal bananas for these dishes are green dessert bananas as their high starch content means that they can be cooked. They taste a bit like sweet potatoes. Cooked green dessert bananas are a popular dish in Zanzibar.1
You can also wrap food in banana leaves. Untreated organic banana peel can be eaten soft boiled, fried, and baked. Bananas can be added to smoothies. In addition, they can be used as a smoothie ingredient or a tea infusion. The peel of very ripe bananas is particularly suitable for raw consumption because it is much thinner, sweeter, and easier to chew.
Bananas are an ingredient in Erb Muesli, which is a gluten-free, raw vegan breakfast cereal. This muesli mix not only contains citrus fruits and berries that are rich in vitamin C and full of antioxidants, it also contains nutritious pseudograins, seeds, and golden millet. You can also try Erb Muesli with Rolled Oats!
Plantains can only be eaten cooked. Plantains and plantain flour are staple foods in many African countries. Other types of bananas include red bananas and lady finger bananas (sugar bananas), which taste slightly sweeter than Cavendish bananas.
Cut 4 ripe, peeled bananas into pieces and freeze them overnight. Add 1–2 tablespoons cocoa to taste and 1–2 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter and then puree until you have a creamy ice cream. Add some soy milk if needed. The ice cream should be eaten fresh as it loses its creamy consistency when refrozen.
First mix 300 g whole grain spelt flour with 100 g brown sugar (muscovado), 10 g baking powder, and a pinch of salt. Add 3 mashed bananas, 100 mL coconut oil, and a dash of soy milk and mix. Season with a little cinnamon and fold in a handful of chopped walnuts. Bake in a square, greased cake tin at 180 °C for about 50 minutes. However, bear in mind that coconut oil is quite unhealthy — see this link. It is fine if you are eating it as a treat. See more vegan banana recipes here.
Bananas are among the most popular and best-selling fruits. They are available in all mainstream supermarkets such as Walmart, Whole Foods Markets, Kroger, and Safeway (United States); Extra Foods, Metro, and Freshmart (Canada); Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Aldi, and Lidl (Great Britain); Woolworths, Coles, Aldi, and Harris Farm (Australia). You can also buy bananas at organic supermarkets, health food stores, and fresh food markets. It is also possible to buy them in subscription boxes and online. It may be possible to find wild bananas online.
Bananas are in season year-round, as they are grown in tropical regions.
You should try to buy bananas that are free of bruises. You should also make sure that they don’t have a grayish tinge. A grayish color suggests that the bananas have been stored at temperatures that are too cold, preventing them from ripening. You should try to buy organic bananas in order to avoid pesticides, which are often used in large quantities to grow nonorganic bananas. From an ethical point of view, we recommend fair trade bananas.
Most bananas in the US and Canada come from Central and South America, namely Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, and Costa Rica. They are mostly Cavendish varieties, which account for more than 40 percent of global production and practically all exports.2,3 In Australia, bananas are grown domestically, with the vast majority of bananas grown in Australia being supplied to the domestic market.
Banana plants can often be found in the wild in countries where bananas are also grown commercially for export.1
Wild species of bananas include Musa balbisiana and Musa acuminata, which originally come from tropical Southeast Asia. Wild bananas are small and green and contain many large, infertile seeds that are comparable to prickly pear seeds.4
Green or yellow-green bananas should be stored in the shade at low room temperatures, and should never be stored in the refrigerator. Bananas require temperatures of more than 13 °C and then ripen in a few days. To avoid bruises, you can hang bananas on a hook, also known as a banana tree hanger. You should definitely remove bananas from plastic as they rot quickly inside packaging.
If you want to speed up the ripening process, you can store bananas with an apple in a paper bag. The apple emits ethylene, which makes the bananas ripen faster. You can also use a tomato or ripe banana. If you use a ripe banana, it will accelerate the ripening of the unripe bananas and also ensure that the ripe banana does not become overripe too quickly.
Bananas are at their sweetest when their peel develops brown spots. Ripe bananas can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days. The cold temperature can cause the peel to turn dark, but the banana will remain firm and tastes the same. Bananas can also be kept in the freezer for several months. You should peel them before freezing, however, as this is difficult to do later. Sprinkle them with a little lemon juice to ensure that they retain their original color when defrosted.
At 358 mg/100 g, bananas are considered an excellent source of potassium. However, higher amounts of potassium are found in various legumes (up to 1,797 mg/100 g), followed by unpeeled hemp seeds (1,200 mg), raw wheat germ (892 mg), and sultanas (746 mg). Bananas nonetheless contain relatively high levels of potassium compared to other fruits.5
Bananas are known for their high content of B vitamins, especially vitamin B6 (0.37 mg/100g). Vitamin B6 is a cofactor for about 100 enzymatic reactions and plays an important role in protein and blood sugar metabolism. Raw rice bran (4,070 mg) provides many times more vitamin B6 than bananas, as do pistachios (1,700 mg), wheat bran (1,303 mg), sesame (0.79 mg), and brown rice (0.736 mg).5
Bananas are also considered a good source of magnesium, with 27 mg/100 g. However, many other foods exceed this considerably, including rice bran (781 mg), unpeeled hemp seeds (700 mg), wheat bran (611 mg), sesame (351 mg), and chia seeds (335 mg).5
Do bananas lead to weight gain? Bananas not only contain a balanced mixture of carbohydrates with soluble and insoluble fibers, they also contain negligible amounts of fat.5 However, the brain and nerves need high-quality mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids. These fatty acids can be found in other foods. Bananas are recommended as part of a balanced diet.
Bananas contain 89 cal/100 g5 and have been considered a superfood in the Western world for many years, as they quickly supply energy and valuable nutrients. Nevertheless, the term superfood says very little about bananas as it is applied to a wide variety of foods and is mainly used for marketing.
Detailed nutritional information can be found in the tables below (e.g., percentages of the recommended daily intake for specific nutrients).
How healthy are bananas? Half-ripe bananas contain a proportion of indigestible resistant starch. The positive effects of resistant starch are well known. The small intestine cannot or can only partially digest and resorb resistant starch, meaning that bacteria ferment the fiber in the large intestine. This promotes a healthy intestinal flora, protects the intestinal wall from cell changes, and supports the function of the intestinal barrier. Resistant starch can furthermore regulate blood sugar levels. Eating a whole foods diet that includes whole grain products, legumes, and bananas will provide your body with plenty of resistant starch.6
Ripe bananas can soothe stomach and gastrointestinal disorders. They are also suitable for small children. The soluble and insoluble fiber helps to regulate digestion and cholesterol levels.2
A study at Jacobs University in Bremen led by chemistry professor Nikolai Kuhnert examined the healing potential of (wild) bananas. They contain many polyphenols: aromatic compounds with antibacterial, disinfecting, and astringent effects. Bananas can therefore help to protect a wound against bacterial infections, and help to form a protective layer over the wound by changing its protein.7
Consuming green, unripe bananas can lead to abdominal pain because the gastrointestinal tract cannot process large amounts of cellulose.1 Even ripe bananas can cause gas if the gastrointestinal tract is sensitive or if they are eaten infrequently—bananas are one of the worst fruits for flatulence.
In parts of Africa and Asia, wild bananas (Musa acuminata) are considered a traditional remedy. Cavendish bananas, however, are not considered to have any healing powers. In many developing countries, open wounds are covered with banana leaves or banana peel, and larger wounds may even be successfully treated with banana leaves and peel.7
Bananas originally come from Southeast Asia. Scientists estimate that the domestication of bananas began seven thousand years ago.1,4 The first written references to bananas are found in Buddhist and Indian writings around 600 BCE. The Spanish cultivated banana plantations on the Canary Islands, from about 1500 CE onwards. Soon after, bananas came to America when Portuguese settlers established the first plantations in the Caribbean and Central America.1
Today, bananas grow in tropical and subtropical regions, around latitudes of 0 to 30 °C.1
According to Wikipedia, the world banana production was 67.2 million tons in 2000 and grew to about 114 million tons in 2017. India is the world’s largest producer of bananas, with 30.5 million tons. The primary exporters of bananas in 2016 were Ecuador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Colombia, and the Philippines. The main worldwide importers were Europe and the United States.1
Bananas need sufficient sun, warmth, nutrients, and even irrigation. Stagnant moisture and direct sunlight must be avoided. During the growing period from May to August, banana plants are fertilized weekly with fertilizer rich in nitrogen, which is also known as complete fertilizer.9 If a banana plant loses its leaves, this indicates that it is too cold, wet, or dark for it to grow.8
In Central Europe, banana plants can be cultivated in conservatories and containers that can hold at least 50 liters of water. Dwarf banana plants such as Dwarf Cavendish bananas and lady finger bananas are suitable for growing in conservatories and containers. In winter, you should heat your conservatory to at least 10°C. In cooler conservatories, cut off the banana leaves and lay them on the ground around the plant to protect it.9
In very mild regions, it may even be possible to cultivate banana plants outdoors if you have suitable protection for the plants during the winter. Musa basjoo, also known as Japanese bananas or hardy bananas, can cope with temperatures down to –3 °C. It does not produce flowers or fruit, but it does give a tropical flair to your garden. Amongst the hardiest varieties of Musa basjoo are “Nana” and “Saporro,” which have improved frost resistance (down to –12 °C). In autumn, the leaves are cut off so that the plant’s rhizome can store enough nutrients for the winter. A 50 to 100 cm high casing is built around the plant and filled with insulating material such as garden fleece, jute, and bast mats. You can protect the plant from waterlogging with a waterproof plate.8,9
Bananas produced for export are mainly grown in monocultures on plantations. Intensive farming and pesticides (prohibited in Western countries) cause ecological damage in the growing regions and damage the health of employees. Organic farming is based on companion planting and the use of chemical synthetic pesticides is not permitted.1
How often does a banana bear fruit? On plantations, banana trees usually grow for more than two years but only bear fruit once. The plants generally require a lot of water.
What kind of fruit are bananas? The banana is botanically a berry. Within three months of growing without fertilization, the female flowers develop into three to five-sided berry fruits. These fruits are 6 to 30 centimeters long and 2 to 5 centimeters thick. The banana plant’s inflorescence is called a bushel (or bunch) and can contain up to 300 bananas and weigh up to 50 kg. Individual bananas are referred to as “fingers,” and a cluster of fingers is called a “hand.” Hands are spirally arranged around the axis of the inflorescence. Each individual fruit first grows downwards, and then after a few days it grows outwards and upwards under the influence of plant hormones.1,3
How high can banana trees grow? Bananas are harvested with a large hook knife while they are still green. The entire inflorescence is cut off from the 2 to 9 m high bush and transported to the packing station, sometimes with the help of Ropeway conveyors. There, the fruit is cut into “hands,” which is how bananas are sold commercially.1 Bananas are exported in refrigerated ships where the temperature is controlled to be exactly 13.2 °C. Once the bananas reach their destination, they are stored in special ripening chambers where ethylene is added to speed up ripening.3
Unlike wild bananas and Ethiopian bananas, cultivated bananas are sterile. The fruits of the banana plant form without pollination or fertilization. Cultivated bananas are seedless, which is why neither generative propagation nor crossbreeding is possible. Most banana varieties are reproduced through vegetative propagation, by taking their “pups,” which sprout from the bananas’ rhizomes.1
Flowers on wild banana plants are pollinated by hummingbirds and bats.8
Dessert bananas (Musa acuminata Colla or Musa × paradisiaca) are a species from the Musa genus in the family Musaceae.
There are several types of dessert bananas including Cavendish bananas, red bananas, lady fingers (sugar bananas), and latundan bananas, each of which have several subvarieties. Well-known varieties of Cavendish bananas include the “Dwarf Cavendish,” “Grand Naine,” Williams, Poyo, and Valery. Valery is the giant of the Cavendish group, while Dwarf Cavendish bananas are a small and very tasty variety of Cavendish bananas. The Gran Naine is the main variety of banana exported from Latin America.3,10.
Musa × paradisiaca encompasses hybrid bananas derived from two wild species: Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana. Cooking bananas and plantains mainly located in Africa may also be called Musa × paradisiaca. In total, there are about 70 banana species and more than 1,000 crosses and varieties of cultivated bananas worldwide.1 International banana producers are continually looking to develop new varieties of bananas that are more resistant to fungal diseases such as sigatoka leaf spot and black sigatoka (Mycosphaerella fijiensis).4
There are two wild banana varieties that originated in Asia: Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana. These are separate species of the Musa genus. Almost all modern edible bananas are hybrids and polyploids of these banana species, usually being grouped together as Musa x paradisiaca or Musa acuminata Colla. The most commonly exported banana “Cavendish” is a triploid mutant and lady finger bananas are a diploid variety of Musa acuminata.11,12
Do you want to learn about how unusual it was in the early 1980s to switch from conventional banana farming to organic farming? If so, read our text First organic bananas from Tenerife, the 20 banana letters.
Bananas are also known as Cavendish bananas, lady fingers, sugar bananas, latundan bananas, red bananas, plantain, hardy bananas, Williams, Grand Naine, Dwarf Cavendish, and Valery.
The fiber or textile banana Abacá (Musa textilis) is used to make nets, ropes, and yarn, also known as Manila hemp. Bananas are not only popular because of their diverse range of uses, they are also popular ornamental plants. A well-known banana species is the hardy banana or Japanese fiber banana (Musa basjoo), which has developed an improved resistance to frost through breeding.10