The banana originated in Southeast Asia. Evidence of its existence dating from the Tertiary period has been found in India. It spread to the Indian subcontinent, the Pacific Islands, and Africa. A great deal of diversification occurred, the result of evolution and human intervention.
The banana is delicate and does not travel well, which is why it took such a long time to reach the West. It was not present in the ancient Mediterranean civilizations. It arrived in Europe during the Renaissance, brought by the Portuguese (the word banana comes from this language), but it did not really gain a foothold there or in North America until the 19th century, when ships became faster.
Banana plants are grown today in all tropical and subtropical areas of the planet, and bananas, varieties of which have been created to resist diseases, are exported throughout the world.
Bananas are harvested before ripening and are packed in boxes. They are transported in specially conditioned ships, then sent to ripening rooms.
Unblemished yellow skin, slightly soft flesh. Brown stains are a sign of advanced ripeness and flesh that is too soft. The greener the banana, the less ripe it is.
Fresh, dried whole (with or without skin) or in chips, as flour (made from green bananas), in jam.
Bananas should not be refrigerated; the fruit turns brown in a matter of hours. Bananas should be stored at room temperature in a dry place, and without piling them up.
They ripen more quickly in the presence of avocados, pears, apples, and mangos.
There are more than 1000 banana varieties, divided into two groups: sweet or dessert bananas and cooking bananas or plantains.
Sweet or dessert bananas
A large part of their starch is converted into sugar as they ripen. This gives them their more or less sweet taste. The main varieties are:
- Cavendish: the most common. Quite sweet fruit some 15–17 cm in length (Antilles, Central America, Canary Islands).
- Poyo: quite extended. sweet fruit, quite long, 18 cm in length (Antilles, Ivory Coast, Cameroon).
Frecinette: very sweet fruit, small, 8–10 cm in length (Colombia, Mexico).
- Apple banana: Very round fruit, very sweet and spicy flavor. Rarely imported into France because they are too delicate (Antilles).
- Pink banana: medium-size fruit with reddish-pink skin and very aromatic white flesh. (Africa, Antilles, South America).
Their starch does not undergo transformation and their flesh remains floury. They can only be eaten once cooked, as a vegetable.
Main variety: Plantain Musa paradisiaca. Long and oval fruit with very dry, fibrous flesh, not sweet (Costa Rica, Ecuador, Colombia, Martinique, Ivory Coast).
Bananas are high in carbohydrates (20% – as high as potatoes), and therefore are high in calories. These carbohydrates are starches, most of which turn into fructose and glucose gradually as they ripen.
They are equally rich in fiber. Bananas have a high mineral content, and are particularly rich in potassium.
Green bananas may be indigestible due to their high starch content.
Bananas may cause an allergic reaction, especially in people who are allergic to latex.