General Non-Fiction posted March 16, 2014

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The versatile fruit

The Multi-purpose Banana

by Sylvia Page

The Multi-purpose Banana

The versatile fruit
A comb of bananas we purchase from a fruit stall or the supermarket is packed in nutritious goodness. A glass of milk and a banana consumed as a hurried breakfast will sustain as well as nourish a child who fusses he has no time to eat. 
Banana is derived from the Arab word ‘banan’ for finger. Not that the banana was a native of the Arab world; in early days, Arabs being seafaring traders, were known for their astute trading habits and would never disclose from where their produce originated. As with everything they traded in, mystery surrounded all their products.
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Monocots
(unranked): Commelinids
Order: Zingiberales
Family: Musaceae
Genus: Musa


Bananas were discovered in the South eastern parts of Asia as an edible fruit around 5000 BCE and were introduced to Europe in the 16th century by the Portuguese. It was later that it was introduced to the US. By the 20th century, bananas having spread to South and Central America it became a leading commodity and were popularly imported to the United States of America.

It was in 1753 that Carl Linnaeus identified and named the genus Musa Latinizing the Arabic name Mauz. The Arabic encyclopaedia mentions Musa in discussions in the 11 century, referred to as the Canon of Medicine, was translated into Latin during medieval times and was well known in Europe.  The Persian and Turkish people also referred to the Musa as Mauz. It is also thought that Musa was named after the Emperor Augustus’ physician Antonius Musa. While the Hindus believed the banana tree was sacred to their goddess Kali, the "Mohammedans" called it the "Paradise tree”.

The English name banana was coined by the Portuguese and Spanish and is assumed to have originated from a West African language called Wolof.

Musa belongs to one of two or three genera within the family Musaceae, which include plantains and bananas. Over 70 species of Musa are identified as having an extensive range of uses.

Musa balbisiana and Musa acuminata are the two wild bananas from which the main cultivars of bananas have derived. The chief characteristics of the wild bananas are, that they have little pulp and large seeds and are difficult to eat.

The present edible bananas have undergone a long process of mutation, hybridization, and selection by human hands. Edible bananas are mostly seedless and sterile. Their propagation is vegetative and these were referred as cultivars as it became clear during 1940s and the 1950s that these could not be specified as Linnean binomials.

Banana plantations were created by the Portuguese in their colonies. These were in western Africa, some Caribbean Islands and Brazil.

Some banana varieties are endemic to certain parts of the world such as India.

Farmers propagate the banana plants from cuttings from the base of the harvested tree or by tissue culture. Tissue culture ensures a disease free plant. Traditionally when the bunch is cut, the old tree is removed from the soil and the main stem discarded. The base can be sliced into several sections and left in a shady place to dry out, and sprout. If there are more than two suckers, the extra suckers are also removed and planted elsewhere after drying out.

Growing of bananas is particularly suited in warm tropical climates such as in the Cameroons and Madagascar; they are also now grown in tropical countries such as in the Caribbean, Africa, India and South America. In America bananas are grown in Florida and in Hawaii. 

They can be grown in cooler climates as well, but depends solely on the variety selected.

The banana is probably the largest plant in existence which looks like a tree trunk without woody stems yet grows to nine meters and bears fruit. The estimated weight of a bunch of banana fruit is 45 kilograms or more grown from the central stalk of a single flower bud. Each tree produces only one bunch. The bunch is cut when the bananas are seasoned and not allowed to get ripe on the tree.  This is because they may burst and spoil easily. When the banana ripens the starch will convert to sugar making the taste sweeter and creamier the riper it gets.

Harvested green bananas begin to ripen no sooner the bunch is cut from the tree. Bananas stored in the refrigerator will slow the process of ripening but have their peels turning brown. The quality of the fruit will not change.

un fact:  Animals don’t usually see green, as ripened bananas are fluorescent under ultraviolet light, and green is not – helps animals who see ultraviolet light know which bananas are ripe.

Nutrition Factors

Bananas contain:
  • 20% of the Daily Value of Vitamin B6.
  • 15% of the Daily Value of Vitamin C.
  • 15% of the Daily Value of Manganese.
  • 13% of the Daily Value of Potassium.
  • 12% of the daily-recommended dietary fibre intake for a normal adult from a single serving of one medium-sized banana  
  • Fructose, sucrose, and glucose
They are eaten fresh, ground in to flour, dried as a chip, grilled, fried or baked. Bananas are also used in popular dishes such as banana bread, banana cream pie, banana splits and banana pudding.

Bananas are a very versatile fruit and serve numerous purposes. The sap is used for curative purposes in certain parts of the world.

When bananas are still a little too green, place them in a brown paper bag with a tomato or an apple overnight. The ethylene released from the ripe fruit will speed up the ripening process.

If bananas get too ripe, don't discard them. Place the peeled fruit in a freezer bag, and freeze for later use in banana bread and in shakes and smoothies. It will help to cut them into pieces before freezing so that just the right amount can be used.

Taking bananas out of the plastic bag will ripen the fruit evenly and make them pleasant to eat.

Bananas should be left to ripen at room temperature. Unripe bananas should not be placed in the refrigerator as they may not be able to resume the ripening process even if they are brought to room temperature.

Most people like to wait until their bananas ripen before eating because green bananas are still very starchy and can be difficult to digest. As the banana ripens, the starch turns to natural sugars making it tasty, delicious and a natural energy booster.

There are certain recipes that call for green bananas and you can make delicious things like curries and stews.

Bananas are used in numerous different recipes and dishes, which make them one of the most popular fruits in the world, and for some cultures, they are the main staple of their diet.

Bananas are non-seasonal and can be found year-round.

India is the highest producer of bananas per year, but mostly consumed locally.

The top four producers of bananas are in Ecuador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Honduras.

The top producers of plantains are in Colombia and Uganda.

Gros Michel: This variety was the most popular type of banana before the 1950s, when many became infected with Panama disease, and were replaced with the dwarf Cavendish.

Cavendish: The overwhelming majority of bananas produced today are of the Cavendish variety, which belongs to the Musa acuminata family. This variety was created in 1836, but since they do not breed, they still lack genetic variation, which makes them more susceptible to disease.
Dwarf Cavendish: A miniature variety of the standard Cavendish.

What’s the difference between a banana and a plantain?
While botanists used to separate bananas and plantains as different species, they have recently stopped differentiating the two. Now, bananas and plantains are more a culinary difference:

Plantains are normally used for cooking and considered a starch (like a potato), while bananas, sometimes called dessert bananas, are firmer, sweeter, and eaten like a fruit.

Plantains are eaten when they are less ripe, meaning they have a lower sugar content. When bananas are greener, they are less sweet because they emit ethylene as they ripen, which breaks down the starches into sugars. In many tropical countries, especially within Africa, plantains are cooked similarly to potatoes: fried, boiled, baked, and made into chips.
The diverse varieties of banana including Cavendish, Manzanon, red and baby bananas are only just a few mentioned from over 30 varieties

How to Treat Bananas for Shipping

The shelf life and condition of bananas are chiefly reliant on their handling throughout harvest and shipping. Throughout the process, bananas must be handled carefully. Bumps, abrasions, cuts and bruises will speed ripening and boost the growth of disease. Their green life can be controlled by the temperature they are stored in, which is the length of time they will remain fresh before they complete ripening and ultimately spoil. Treat them with care and they will reach their destination in merchandisable state.


  • Dust, dip or spray the pruning cut on the crown of the hand of bananas with a fungicide like thiabendazole (TBZ) while the cut is still fresh and moist. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for application methods and amounts. This fungicide will prevent the bananas from developing fungal growth or disease when shipped for long periods of time.
  • Hang bananas to be shipped short distances in a shaded spot that is between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Stored in this manner, the bananas will ripen in a few days. Bananas that must spend longer than three days in transit from farm to table must be harvested before the fingers are fully rounded and must be chilled to between 56 and 58 degrees Fahrenheit before 24 to 48 hours have elapsed. If the bananas remain unrefrigerated for longer than 36 hours, their green life will be significantly shortened.
  • Line a sturdy ventilated cardboard shipping box with a large polyethylene bag designed for shipping. Packaging manufacturers produce a wide range of semi-permeable membranes specifically designed for shipping bananas. These bags minimize moisture loss, and control oxygen and carbon dioxide levels to different degrees to extend the shelf life of the bananas. Their use is the most important in long term shipping that will last between 4 to 50 days. Bananas shipped for shorter periods of time do not need their boxes lined with polyethylene.
  • Lay the hands carefully in rows, two hands deep. If you wish to pack the bananas four hands deep, place a flexible cardboard shipping pad between the lower two layers of hands and the top two layers of hands.
  • Ship bananas in transit for longer than 24 hours in a refrigerated compartment chilled to between 56 and 58 degrees Fahrenheit. Alternately, use temperature-controlled shipping boxes to pack the bananas.

Tips & Warnings

Temperatures any lower than the chill range listed above will result in chill injury. Temperatures any warmer will hasten ripening and shorten green life

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