The “ApPEEL of Bananas”
Kelly Izdihar Crosby
Bananas, with their creamy texture and yummy flavor, are a staple of American breakfast food. As one of the most popular fruits, they are found on many kitchen counters. Their sweet and smooth flesh makes food preparation very easy. Surprisingly, bananas are botanically considered berries due to their fleshy skin and no stone. They are usually long, curved, and covered in a rind. When ripe, the rind could be yellow, green, red, purple, brown, or even blue! Here’s an interesting fact: the genus name for bananas is Musa, the Latinization of the Arabic name for banana, mauz. The Quran mentions this blessed fruit as a reward for the people of Paradise. “The companions of the right-what are the companions of the right? [They will be] among lote trees with thorns removed, and [banana] trees layered [with fruit].” [Quran 56:27-29].
Bananas are native to the lands of Indomalaya and Australia. They are believed to have first been domesticated in Papua New Guinea. Bananas are primarily grown in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Currently, India and China provide up to 38% of the world’s bananas, but in the United States, most of the bananas sold in grocery stores come from Central and South America. Like any fruit, there are many varieties, but the most familiar one is the Cavendish banana. There are also plantains, sometimes referred to as cooking bananas, which are firmer and starchier than the Cavendish dessert banana. Some lesser-known varieties are the Blue Java bananas, red bananas, pink bananas, and Fe’i bananas. You can generally find bananas at any time of the year.
Blue Java bananas are called ice cream bananas because of their ice cream consistency and vanilla flavor. Red bananas tend to be smaller, denser, and contain more vitamin C. Pink bananas are hot pink and covered in a bright fuzzy peel. Fe’i bananas have orange flesh with red-orange peels, the color being due to the high beta-carotene content. Beta-carotene is a red-orange pigment found in many plants. When ingested, beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A, which is “important for normal vision, the immune system, and reproduction and helps the heart, lungs, kidneys, and other organs work properly.” (National Institutes of Health) Other varieties include apple bananas, silk bananas, and sugar bananas.
While bananas are cultivated primarily for their fruit, they are also used as decorative ornaments. Pink and red bananas are often selected for their bright, vibrant colors in gardening and landscaping. Banana plants also have many practical uses. Because banana leaves are large and waterproof, they can be used as instant umbrellas, as some banana leaves can grow up to eight feet long and two feet wide. Banana fiber from fruit stalks is being used to make “vegan” silk as an earth-friendly alternative. Banana leaves are great for wrapping and serving food. The waterproof surface holds in the food juices while also emitting a sweet aroma. In 2019, a supermarket chain in Thailand went viral on social media, due to its decision to bundle all of its fruits and vegetables in banana leaves and flexible bamboo, discarding conventional plastic wrapping. Banana waste products can also be used to feed livestock.
A raw Cavendish banana, not including the peel, is about 75% water, 23% carbohydrates, 1% protein, a tiny amount of fat. “One dessert banana has 89 Calories, 31% of the US recommended Daily Value (DV) of vitamin B6, and moderate amounts of vitamin C, manganese, and dietary fiber.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana) One plantain, or cooking banana, has 122 calories, and 33% of the US recommended Daily Value (DV) of vitamin B6, and moderate amounts of vitamin C, manganese and dietary fiber. Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is important for normal brain development and for keeping the nervous system and immune system healthy. “Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is necessary for the growth, development, and repair of all body tissues. It’s involved in many body functions, including the formation of collagen, absorption of iron, the immune system, wound healing, and the maintenance of cartilage, bones, and teeth.” (https://www.marsvenus.com/p/buffered-vitamin-c). Bananas also contain potassium, which is great for managing blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels and helping the body expel more sodium.
Bananas can be consumed in many different ways. You can slice them up and add them in a bowl of cereal or oatmeal. Sliced bananas and peanut butter are delicious on toast. Fresh bananas or banana powder can add a nice frothy texture to smoothies and milkshakes. When bananas are overripe, you can make banana bread, muffins, cakes, and pudding. Create vegan ice cream by freezing one whole banana; when frozen solid, slice it and place it into a food blender and blend until smooth. Banana chips make a sweet, crispy snack without too much sugar. Discover ways to add bananas to your desserts so you can enjoy a sweet, savory treat with packed with vitamins, fiber, and potassium!
Kelly Izdihar Crosby is a freelance writer and visual artist living in Atlanta, Georgia.