Bananas (the Musa species) are native to tropical southern Asia and Australia, and most likely were first domesticated in Pest Removal Papua, New Guinea. Presently, they’re grown in over 130 countries, chiefly for their own fruit, but in some countries are used for alcoholic beverages and ornamental plants. The biggest producers of peanuts in 2016 were India and China with 29.1 tons and 13.1 tons, respectively. On a smaller scale, the Philippines, Ecuador and some parts of Latin America also export.
It is likely bananas were introduced to the Americas by Portuguese sailors, who brought the fruit from West Africa in the 16th century. (They ate a significant amount en route.) Fast forward a few years and the food became more popular, yet still not well known in Europe (apparently French chefs hadn’t been introduced.) They hung around in New Orleans for nearly a century before famous Brennan’s Restaurant created”Bananas Foster,” a rich sweet dessert made with brown sugar, dark rum and lots of butter, served over ice cream.
There’s absolutely not any mention of bananas in any journals or recipes of foodie president Thomas Jefferson, and it’s highly unlikely that he ever served them in his famous dinners. With his passion for gardening and fruits, he surely would have adopted them, but sadly, he missed out. They did not gain popularity until 50 years later.
The common banana variety is known as the Cavendish. And of course Chiquita and Dole dominate the worldwide industry. The biggest food product sold at Walmart stores (drum roll) is bananas, a whopping 1.5 billion pounds in 2015. No surprise when you consider that the average American eats 26 pounds each year. Though there has been much bad press calling bananas, as we understand them, could be wiped out shortly, due to genetic alterations and parasitic and virus infestation, it is very likely that other varieties will raise up and take the place of the Cavendish, so fear not.
Hawaii has its banana business, mostly for local consumption, along with Florida and a smattering of other countries which grow a modest amount, but this is 1 crop which will probably never dominate the U.S. either for domestic use or exportation. We simply don’t have the climates for them.
More starchy than candy, they are considered a vegetable and seldom eaten in their raw state. Often fried or mashed, they’re a common street food in Africa and Asia. As well as included in stews and soups, or served with fish. Some celebrity chefs have featured them on the Food Network, using them in pancakes, fritters, and spicy fried pieces, but the American cuisine really doesn’t lend itself to plantains, preferring the garden variety banana instead. If you’re an adventurous cook, you might want to consider looking out plantains and whipping up a new dish over the weekend.
Americans consume bananas in a number of different ways, including banana bread, banana splits, chocolate-covered frozen bananas, banana pudding, banana cream pie, sliced onto breakfast cereal, and dried chips for snacking. They also sport a few catchy phrases applied to them, like slipping on a peel, or even a ridiculous, yet popular old song,”Yes, we have no bananas.” (And monkeys really enjoy them.)
Late to the party, bananas have catapulted to the top of the hit parade of fruits and continue to reign, from baby’s first solid food to grandma’s favourite snack, and everywhere in between. Featured prominently in each produce section, we automatically reach for them. Go bananas.