Going Bananas (You could do worse!)

Nancy Berkofff

THREE MILLION METRIC TONS: That’s what we eat a year, give or take a banana. It all began in southeast Asia around 300 B.C. Early historical references tell us that Alexander the Great brought bananas back from his excursions to India, that traders from the Indian Ocean area brought bananas to the east coast of Africa and Chinese traders introduced bananas to Polynesia in the first century A.D. The first banana plants in the Americas were planted on the island of Hispaniola by missionaries in the 1500s. Bananas became popular in the US during the 1850s, imported by the Boston Fruit Company. The first banana split was served in a Pennsylvania pharmacy in 1904.

BANANA LORE: And you thought bananas were those simple fruit you sliced onto your corn flakes every day! A Hindu interpretation of Old Testament stories replaces the infamous apple (of Garden of Eden fame) with a banana and banana leaves, not figs -, for the first fashion statement. The most common banana type imported into the US belong to the species “m. spaientum” (the banana of the wise), so called (according to a French philosopher) because “sages reposed beneath their shade and ate of their fruit.” A diet which includes bananas may be of some intellectual assistance, as bananas are good sources of phosphorus, “the salt of the intelligence.”

GEYSER BANANA: The majority of bananas are exported from central America. However, if you have a contact, you may be able to obtain a pound or two of Icelandic-grown bananas. With unlimited geothermal energy, Iceland has supported a modest hot-house banana industry since the 1940’s, with the most northern banana plantation in the world.

YELLOW, GREEN, RED, BROWN: The variety of long yellow bananas which we see today are of the Cavendish variety; they travel well and ripen slowly in transit. Branch out a bit and sample the small-but-luscious apple bananas, the small-fingered red bananas or organic varieties of any type. Bananas should be firm, with very little bruising, and (or eating over several days) slightly green at the tip. If you want to stop the ripening, you can refrigerate bananas, but note that this will make them turn brown, inside and out. Use your ripe bananas in sweet and savory salads, in sweet-and-sour sauces and dishes, in smoothies, and in pancake and fritter batter. Use your over-ripe bananas as a fat-replacer in baking recipes or stirred into curries, chilies or bean soaps as a “secret” ingredient. If you’ve overdone your banana purchase, peel them, puree them, add a little Vitamin C (to prevent browning- lemon or orange juice will do), store in air-tight plastic or glass and freeze. Use thawed bananas for to make your own banana ice cream, stir into hot cereal, or make a fast banana-rice pudding with cooked, warm rice, pureed bananas, a splash of milk, raisins and spices.

BEYOND THE PEEL: The banana is the exception to the rule of “staple” foods as almost all staples are cereal or root crops. The banana plant is a total-use commodity- the larger leaves can be used for building materials, for food containers, for food mats and even for making a form of rope. Smaller leaves have been used to heal various skin ailments and burns. The flowers and sap have been used as folk remedies, and to produce banana wine and beer. The peel is sometimes ground and used as a natural fungicide. One medium banana will provide about 100 calories, lots of potassium (451 milligrams), 33 mg of magnesium, and 92 International Units of Vitamin A.

With many years in health care and education, Nancy, RD, EdD, would love for readers to ask food -and nutrition-related questions                foodprof2@gmail.com.

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