The banana is a yellow, normally curved, and always fantastic fruit, very versatile in its uses and quite tasty too. There are an awful lot of banana facts floating around on the internet, so here is the pick of the crop:
The History of Bananas:
So the story goes, bananas originated in Malaysia, or at least in that general area, although banana remains have also been found in Africa that date back to the first millennium BC, which has triggered a storm of debate between banana scientists and historians. From Malaysia the bananas ended up in Madagascar (unless they were already there) where Islamic warriors found them and brought them back to the Middle East. Slowly the bananas spread west across North Africa, where the Portuguese discovered them in about 1402. From there they travelled to the Caribbean and to Central America, and by the 1600s were pretty much cultivated wherever in the world they could grow.
The Nutritional Benefits of Bananas:
Bananas are famed for their potassium content; one large banana contains about 600mg of potassium, which I’m told is a lot. The same banana has about 140 calories, so although per 100g a banana contains more calories than most fruit, it is still not highly calorific, making it a more satisfying snack without being too high in calories. Because the banana is also considerably higher in carbohydrate than most fruit it is also an excellent choice for sportsmen, especially since the potassium and numerous other vitamins they contain help aid recovery times.
In terms of vitamin content a banana has a lot going for it. They have plenty of vitamin A, a measure of all the B vitamins (Thiamine, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6 and Folic Acid), vitamin C of course and also significant amounts of calcium and magnesium. All of these are important for a healthy balanced diet. Studies have also suggested that as part of a healthy balanced diet consumption of bananas can help reduce the risk of cancer.
Cooking with Bananas:
There are almost limitless recipes that contain bananas and I won’t go into the details but here are a few suggestions for cooking ideas.
– Banana bread. Yum.
– Peanut Butter, banana and honey sandwich. Almost but not quite as good as the classic peanut butter and jam sandwich.
– Banana fritters. Anything deep fried tastes better, bananas especially so. Don’t expect them to contain much of their previous nutritional value though.
– Banana on the barbecue with chocolate in it. Wrap it in foil first!
– In Madeira bananas are often eaten with the Black Scabbard Fish. This was because there was a period where Madeiran bananas were deemed not to conform to EU standards and they could no longer be exported, leading to huge surpluses of bananas on the island. So for a while the Madeirans ate banana with everything.
Medicinal: bananas are supposed to help with a vast array of medical complaints, including high blood pressure, anaemia, hangovers, constipation, depression, reducing the irritation caused by insect bites, PMS, stress…the list goes on.
Brain power: 200 pupils in an English school were fed bananas three times a day and were shown to become more alert, apparently an effect caused by the potassium they contain.
Giving up: snacking on a banana every two hours is supposed to help prevent cravings for chocolate and other sugary or fatty foods. The vitamins bananas contain are also supposed to help reduce the withdrawal effects of giving up smoking.
Clothing: in Japan especially banana fibres have been used to make clothing for hundreds of years. Since different parts of the tree yield softer or coarser fibres, the uses to which they can be put are very various.
Paper: can be made from either the bark or the fibres.
The Appropriate Peeling Method:
The economist Steven Landsburg wrote an excellent article in 2002 (http://www.slate.com/id/2067407/) on the relative effectiveness of the methods of peeling from the stem and non-stem ends of the banana. This is surprising since most people (at least those that I have spoken to) haven’t even considered peeling from the non-stem end, but this is what monkeys do, and also happens to be a lot easier than peeling from the stem end, especially when the banana is slightly unripe. Plus of course when discussing such an important topic it is important not to forget the general equilibrium issues.
– Banana plants are actually the world’s largest herbs, in case you were sitting there thinking they were trees, like I was.
– They belong to the genus ‘musa’ and the family ‘musaceae’.
– You can also eat banana flowers.
And that is all I have to say about bananas. I feel that this provides a suitably comprehensive introduction to this really rather useful fruit. If you want to find out more, you can visit www.banana.com (no joke).
Or you can read this highly informative book on the subject:
Or this one for a more serious history of the banana: