Fruits: Bananarama

Banana

Origins

May the Banana be with you. In the world of breakfast trends, overnight oats a la Oh She Glows style of the 2000s has made way for banana meals in any form conceivable, thanks to figures espousing the Banana Diet – Freelee, Loni Jane, Durian Rider, and their school of followers. On instagram, search the hashtag #bananadiet, #bananagirl, #bananagirldiet, #bgdiet , #30bad or any of its permutations and you will be greeted with yellow skins, peeled skins, spotty skins, nice creams and smoothies made with three or four or even more bananas. Why, for extremists there is even a 30 bananas a day challenge, purported to support weight loss and aid anorexia recovery. Personally I’d never been particularly fond of bananas until I embraced smoothies and banana ice creams. I do not yet have the discipline or guts to try out 30 bananas a day; the most being 3 in a meal. On these occasions, 3 bananas – in a smoothie with other ingredients – do manage to tide me over a couple hours. Now, going back to the roots of bananas.

Bananas trace their roots back to the jungles of Southeast Asia and northern Australia. They have been in cultivation since the beginning of recorded history and are mentioned in ancient Hindu, Chinese, Greek, and Roman texts. In 327 B.C., when Alexander The Great and his army invaded India, he discovered banana crop in the Indian Valleys. After tasting this unusual fruit for the first time, he introduced this new discovery to the Western world. According to Spanish history, Friar Tomas de Berlanga is claimed to have introduced bananas to the Caribbean in 1516. In America, however, the banana would remain virtually unknown until its introduction at the Centennial International Exposition of 1876. Each yellow fruit was wrapped in foil and sold for a dime.

The bananas we enjoy today are far better than the original wild fruit which contained many large, hard seeds and not much tasty pulp. There was a cross breeding of two varieties of wild bananas, Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana. From this process, some bananas became seedless and more like the bananas we eat today.

Bananas are the fourth-most valuable global crop after rice, wheat, and milk. Nearly nine-tenths of the world’s bananas are eaten in poor countries, where at least 400 million people rely on them for a significant portion of their daily calories. Africa is the largest producer or bananas (commonly called plantains), but you will never see a banana from Africa sold in a supermarket because they are consumed entirely by that continent’s people. It cannot afford to export a major source of nutrition for its population.

Many people confuse bananas with plantains, but plantains are a starchy, low-sugar variety of the banana family, often eaten cooked (fried or baked).

Tasting notes

Banana 2

There are over 140 edible species of bananas, but those sold in stores are only 2 or 3 kinds. The two most common ones, at least in Singapore, are the medium-sized Cavendish (above left and top) and the small Lady Finger bananas (above right). The latter is sweeter than the Cavendish and has a deep yellow-colored flesh with a banana custard flavor. It is my preferred choice.

Selecting the best

To eat straight away, go for leopard-spotted bananas. The spots indicate that the starches have turned into sugars and that you’ll be rewarded with a creamy treat. Otherwise, choose yellow with green tinged ends and they can be ripened at room temperature. Green bananas are unripe and have an unpleasant astringent taste. Bananas should have their stem ends and skins intact: A split skin or stem may become an entry point for contamination. There is no quality difference between small and large fruit, so you can choose the portion size you prefer.

For those who are interested in the science of banana ripening, ethylene, the “ripening hormone” stimulates the ripening process by initiating a number of genetic and chemical processes in the fruit, using messenger molecules called “ethylene response factors” or ERFs to trigger signaling cascades. The enzyme amylase hydrolyzes the starch strands between the sugar units. Enzymatic degradation of pectin in the cell walls also cause the softening of the fruit. Finally, there is degradation of chlorophyll, the green pigment in the peel, causing the banana to turn yellow.

Store

Ripen at room temperature. Ripe bananas may be refrigerated or frozen. To prepare smoothies, I pre-slice my bananas, freeze them in a Ziploc bag, then use the frozen slices the next morning. Meals in a jiffy.

Nutritional highlights

One medium banana contains about 105 calories and 27 grams carbohydrates, of which 15 grams is sugar in the form of glucose (6 grams), fructose (6 grams) and sucrose (3 grams). To put that in perspective, the World Health Organization has revised a recommended a daily amount of sugar to 25 grams a day (although technically this excludes natural fruit sugars). It is also a FODMAP-friendly fruit. Bananas are rich sources of the vitamins and minerals including potassium (422 mg or 12 percent RDI), vitamin C (10 mg or 20 percent RDI), and vitamin B6 (0.4 mg or 20 percent RDI). Vitamin B6 helps the body to make red blood cells and neurotransmitters such as serotonin, the feel-good hormone. Moreover, bananas are easily digestible, offering fast enery. They are however a poor source of protein and fat, and thus must be part of a supplemented diet rather than as a staple food.

Recipe notebook and inspiration

Beverages: Basic Green Smoothie | Banana & Cardamom Lassai
Breakfast: Raw Banana Nut Bread | Banana Avocado Bread | Double Chocolate Banana Bread
Starters: Banana chips | Banana Doughnut Bites
Mains: Banana Avocado Panini | Plantain Curry
Desserts: BAD Apple Strudel | Banana Crème Pie | Banana Boats | Basic Banana Ice Cream Chia Pudding | Banoffee

Bananas in the news

Bad news. Banana production is under assault from a soil-borne fungal disease called Panama disease. The Tropical Race Four (TR4) strain was first discovered in Southeast Asia in 1989 by plant pathology professor Randy Ploetz. Whole banana plantations died, with trees exhibiting wilted yellow leaves. In less than a decade it has spread to Australia, China, Southeast Asia, and most recently the Middle East, with news reports branding it the “HIV of banana plantations”. TR4 is attacking the highly prized sweet Cavendish variety, a favorite in the 1950s because it was found to be resistant to strains of Panama disease that hit the then-preferred Gros Michel variety of banana. But now the Cavendish, which makes up about 95 percent of global banana exports, is dying from the fungus. The fear is that TR4 it will spread to Central and South America which account for 81 percent of the global banana trade. The TR4 strain, while not a danger to humans, is found in the soil and can remain active for decades. It cannot be fully controlled by fungicides. To underscore the seriousness of the situation, Costa Rica declared a “banana emergency” in December 2013. I conclude by repeating my opening sentence, may the Banana be with you (literally), while it lasts.

Day 2 of Monomea1 Project – towards minimalism.
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