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This tropical fruit originating in Southeast Asia travelled from continent to continent until a Spanish missionary brought it in 1516 to Central America. First, Arab traders brought it from India to the East Coast of Africa. Bananas were until the 14th century, a rarity until Portuguese explorers brought it from Africa to the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean.
Today, bananas constitute the major export of Honduras, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Panama, although Madeira, practically all Caribbean Islands, Sri Lanka, India, Turkey and many other countries also produce significant amounts. These countries cannot compete with the low labour costs of Central American countries, and relatively short distance to North America, a major consumer. The vicinity of these countries to a major consuming continent helps keep transportation costs down.
Banana is a healthy fruit, rich in potassium, 11 other minerals and 6 vitamins. The fruit gives off large amounts of ethylene gas, and can help ripen green tomatoes and/or avocados in warehouses if placed nearby.
World wide the banana is the third most popular fruit after apples and oranges.
Banana is a perennial herb with huge leaves. The fruit grows in “hands”, each if which consists of 10 – 20 fingers. A bunch may weigh up to 45 kg. , but commercial banana estates harvest the fruit to weigh approximately 20 Kg. for ease in handling and packaging.
In the tropics people sue the large leaves as plates for banquets.
Export bananas are always pricked green, and ripen at their destination in warehouses. However, when the fruit is picked close to ripeness there can be no comparison in taste or texture as tourists to tropical countries are bound to experience.
In tropical countries markets offer a number of varieties, from kiskadee figs (finger bananas), red bananas, cooking bananas just to name a few.
In European countries, bananas have been an exotic fruit and children cherish them when they were available. Today bananas are widely available in almost all European countries even those that are poor.
The fruit is a healthy snack and comes in a natural envelope, but bruises easily. An ingenious banana aficionado invented a “banana glove” ( a hard clear plastic container) that protects the fruit .
Banana is versatile and can be eaten out-of-hand, flamed, baked, used in sandwiches or curries, pastries, cakes and in fruit salads, but deteriorates when refrigerated. Some authorities claim that it can be refrigerated for up to 3 – 5 days without deterioration of taste and texture. While the fruit may look fine, both the taste and texture suffer.
Some people freeze bananas and eat them instead of ice cream.
Banana is available throughout the year in North America and quite inexpensive. Buy small quantities and ripen them in your kitchen for maximum flavour and enjoyment.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu
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