Saving the Most Interesting Fruit in the World
June 19, 2019 6:38 PM   Subscribe

"The banana used to be a luxury good. Now it’s the most popular fruit in the U.S. and elsewhere. But the production efficiencies that made it so cheap have also made it vulnerable to a deadly fungus that may wipe out the one variety most of us eat. Scientists do have a way to save it — but will Big Banana let them?" Maybe, if Western public opinion keeps coming around to the idea. But is continuing to farm vast monoculture crops worth endangering global banana production?

This post is 🍌s. sorry, I had to.

Freakonomics Ep. 375: The Most Interested Fruit in the World
Inverse: Scientists Have a New Plan to Save the Banana From Extinction
Commentary: The Slow, Welcome Death of the GMO Panic
Quartz: How the global banana industry is killing the world’s favorite fruit

Bonus: From the MeFi GMO Banana Archives: A new banana promises to cure blindness in East Africa

... after all this, I sure have a craving for some creamy radiation.
posted by Drosera (42 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Woah! I actually paid for a membership after 5+ years of lurking because of this post.

Why is there no mention of *the last banana extinction?*

The bananas we eat today are already a stark departure from our (great?)grandparent's bananas that went extinct in the 1920s... so why the hot fuss now?
posted by metametamind at 6:54 PM on June 19, 2019 [30 favorites]

go banana!
posted by entropicamericana at 6:57 PM on June 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

I wonder if it will bring about a remake of this song (ideally by a band named Creamy Radiation).
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:58 PM on June 19, 2019

The second link goes into a pretty good history of the Gros Michel variety along with the Cavendish discussion, metametamind.
posted by nubs at 7:00 PM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

This is a GREAT post! I read about the Gros Michel being wiped out years ago and I have always longed to taste that superior banana, or the other varieties of bananas that don’t ship well. It truly makes me sad to know I’m missing out on more delicious bananas; I hate traveling and I’m in the northern USA so alas, I will have to be content with Cavendish while they last :( and maybe some of the varieties you can get at certain supermarkets.

Selfish sadness aside it’s really interesting to learn more about their production and all the complexities of such an ubiquitous fruit. Thanks for posting!
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 7:32 PM on June 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

Oh man do I ever hate me some bananas. I have a big banana-shaped psychological scar burned into the side of my brain. When I was a kid, all the way up until I was 14 or maybe 15, I was pretty indifferent about bananas. Something happened, though, right around that age, that forever changed how bananas taste for me, and I have, since that day, hated bananas with a white-hot passion (only one other food shares that honor: eggs - but even those I eat occasionally in an omelet). This is the story of that something that happened:

My best friend when I was an adolescent was named Jacob. One night I was to stay overnight at his house and that happened to be an evening that there was youth group at the church Jacob went to, so I got to tag along.

It just so happened that instead of normal youth group, however, it was game night, and the leaders had all these crazy games lined up for us. They split us into four teams, the red, blue, yellow, and green - I forget which one we were, but the teams were co-ed, maybe 20 or so kids each, and each team had a leader assigned to them. So we do the typical games - fruit loop on a toothpick passing, relay races with balloons between the legs, relay races with the wiffle-ball-bat-to-the-forehead-spinning, relay races with a bag of gross foods that you had to reach into and eat whatever you grabbed (I got prunes, thankfully not that bad). Things like that. The prunes wouldn't prove to be the last of the fruit I ate that night, however.

Points were being kept after each event and they were really building up the big huge secret surprise that each member of the winning team was going to get (last year's game night the prize apparently had been free tickets to Waterworld, a big water park in Sacramento). So everyone was super into it - hyper-high-school competitive. So much so that we practically forgot, at times, that our primary reason for being there was to impress girls.

Well, the scores are close coming into the final event - the banana eating contest. This contest was different, however, in that the whole team did not participate in this contest. Instead, the team chose whoever they thought could eat the most amount of bananas in the shortest amount of time, and then they cheered on their representative on stage as he/she competed against the other teams' representatives.

Somehow, despite my apprehensions, I was the clear choice of my team, comprised 19 or so people who I had never met before and Jacob. I should have realized something was up at that point, but they carried it off well - it all seemed really legit. Besides, this was important, awesome prizes were at stake. I could do this. And all the girls on all the teams would watch me become the hero of my team. This was a big deal.

So up I go on stage. They line the 4 of us up, each with a pile of a dozen or so bananas on the stage floor in front of us. But there's a last-minute catch. They bring out blindfolds and make sure we can't see anything, we have to peel and eat with our eyes covered. No biggie. I can do this. I can win this thing.

So they give us 2 minutes to start. They start up the loud music and the MC is screaming crazy in the mic like its a horse race, all the teams are screaming like nuts for their person, and I'm ripping open bananas and shoving them into my mouth, swallowing without barely biting them in half. The bell rings at 2 minutes and they stop us to check the score. The first team has only 5 bananas, the second team 6 and a half, I have 6 and a half, and the last guy has 7, but its debatable due to part of a banana being left in one of the discarded peels. We stay blindfolded the whole time while the judges deliberate and declare that there must be a 3-way eat-off between the last 3 of us - one minute only.

So now its even more intense, louder music, more insanely screaming MC, kids at a fever pitch, and finally the bell rings. More banana has gone down my throat than air in the last minute, I almost choke trying to swallow what I was able to cram into my mouth in the 5 second count-down to the bell. Team 2 has really upped the ante and is now at 9 and a half bananas, getting a full 3 down in one minute. But I held pace with them and was also at 9 and a half. Team 4 must have not been pacing himself, as he only got to 9 when the bell rang. This time - a 2 way tie. One more one-minute eat-off.

At this point I pretty much can't hear anything, its just a dull roar, me, and the agony of cramming bananas down my throat, which is starting to hurt a little. The bell rings. The emcee can't believe what he's seeing, we're now tied again, exactly at 12 bananas, both of us only able to get down 2.5 bananas this time. Judges confer, there unfortunately are not enough prizes to go around, so they ask both of us if we can go on, we both, still blindfolded, groan into the mic that we can, and we go into the final round of insane banana cramming.

It would be the final round because I ended it prematurely. As far as I know, there may have been many more rounds planned to follow it.

You see, at some point in that last minute, with my mouth full of banana and my hands covered in the sticky mash, I had a horrible, horrible thought. A thought too horrible to not instantly acknowledge, which meant ripping my blindfold off to see if my horrible thought was indeed true. And it was.

There was no one else on stage but me and the MC.

There hadn't been anyone else on stage but me and the MC, right from the moment they blindfolded me. As soon as that happened, the other kids quietly took off their blindfolds, put their bananas in my pile, and went and sat with their teams. The MC, the music, the bell, the screaming, even the team 2 team member coming back up to agree to go on - all perfectly designed to keep me deluded and eating frantically. The whole thing was a pretty darn hilarious joke.

The only problem I had with it was that it was at my expense.

Kids at that age pretty much revolve around the central desire to be cool, to be accepted, to be popular and liked. A room full of a hundred kids laughing at what an idiot you are is pretty much the opposite of that - I stormed out of that place, never to come back again. Jacob and I would not turn out to be lifelong friends.

And I never again could stand the taste of bananas. For mostly physiological reasons, I think - I just burned out on them, all in one go. Kind of like I once did with Malibu Rum - but that's a story for another time.
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:43 PM on June 19, 2019 [92 favorites]

Is there really any risk of the banana going extinct? Or is it just a risk that the particular cultivar that's being monocultured to death is going to become impossible to, well, monoculture to death?

I am not sure that's exactly a fate worth worrying too much about, unless you're a giant monoculture banana producer. And those folks have a pretty sordid history, such that in the scheme of things, they're probably best chased down to Hell as quickly as possible.

Because I am really suspicious that bananas—which is to say, any fruit of the genus Musa—are not actually going extinct. That would be something, if they were. No, rather, I think it's just that that the one fucking variety that giant agribusinesses have decided to monoculture are yet again succumbing to exactly the sort of pestilence that you'd expect from a ridiculously overscaled monoculture of genetic clones.

No shit, Sherlock. Grow millions of acres of cloned plants and guess what's gonna happen. Do you want botanical disease? Because that's how you get botanical disease.

We should do exactly zilch to stop this from happening, because it was a really stupid thing to do in the first place. Certainly we shouldn't be factoring Western consumers' preferences into it, because Western consumers are literally the dumbest people in the world when it comes to what to grow in the tropics.

There shouldn't be one "banana". It's not a single fruit. There are many types of bananas—big, small, green, yellow, sweet, starchy, thin-skinned, thick-skinned, fast-ripening, slow-ripening. Iterate every possible combination. If we grew them in something approximating their natural diversity, we wouldn't have nearly the problems with fungal infection that we have. But instead, we do dumb stuff, because it's economically incentivized, and then act surprised when the ecosystem doesn't cooperate.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:29 PM on June 19, 2019 [13 favorites]

I think I used to have the gros Michel banana when I lived in Togo. I was not a fan and we called them “chode” (chaod?) bananas for their short, fat shape
posted by raccoon409 at 8:42 PM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

The bananas we eat today are already a stark departure from our (great?)grandparent's bananas that went extinct in the 1920s.

Apparently, a local variant here in its native Southeast Asia still exists, so if you want to, look for pisang berangan, if you're in the Malay-speaking places (though I'm not too sure, tbh, there's a lot of competing claims). Still, here's also ground zero for lots of these epidemics, iirc our local indigenous bananas are in a constant arms race with these microbial threats, which does impact the farmed monocultural varieties that are also cultivated here.

ok, gonna read the rest of the links. /banana fan
posted by cendawanita at 9:14 PM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh, and since apparently I learned this week through a friend, that banofee pie is not a thing commonly known in the USA, a recipe.
posted by cendawanita at 9:17 PM on June 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

Not to be dismissive, but we get a banana extinction post every 2-3 years going back to 16 years ago and yet it’s still the cheapest fruit in my grocery store. What gives?
posted by furtive at 10:20 PM on June 19, 2019 [6 favorites]

It's a bit like the hysteria over the deaths of honeybees right - oh its just the mass produced bees from another continent that are dying - until it's not.

Bananas used to grow like literal weeds in my garden in Malaysia, they were unstoppable (they grew through the fence from a neighbour). Each plant would produce maybe 100-150 bananas in a single fruiting and they were far tastier than the supermarket varieties I find now in Australia which are awful and tasteless.
posted by xdvesper at 11:50 PM on June 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

I think it was from the last banana post back in 2017 that I learned Gros Michel were much higher in isoamyl acetate - which is/was used as the basis for artificial banana flavouring - than current varieties. Which is why banana lollies taste nothing like current bananas.

In a similar vein, many "grape" flavoured lollies - and, indeed, American grape jellies - taste nothing like the grapes familiar to people in most parts of the world. That's because until recent years most artificial grape flavourings were based on methyl anthranilate, which is present in the cultivars derived from the American native Vitis labrusca, but not the cultivars of V. vinifera native to the Old World.
posted by Pinback at 12:03 AM on June 20, 2019 [7 favorites]

Not to be dismissive, but we get a banana extinction post every 2-3 years going back to 16 years ago and yet it’s still the cheapest fruit in my grocery store. What gives?

Because the spread of panama disease can be slowed by strict quarantine and infection control measures, but not stopped. Taiwan's plantations were basically wiped out in the 90s by the TR4 variant of panama disease, and from there it's spread round half the world, having a catastrophic impact on banana production wherever it lands. It stays in the soil for decades, effectively killing that plantation for good. And before that, the tastier gros michel has effectively been wiped out from agricultural production worldwide. So we can see where this is headed over the next few decades, unless we actually change things.

Bananas are more than just a nice fruit in western markets (where we import a lot of food as standard) - in other more tropical parts of the world they are a staple locally grown crop that makes up a substantial parts of the diet because it's robust, fast growing and nutritious. Sure, you can import it from areas not yet blighted, but that increases the price and of course carbon emissions from transport.

And the reason bananas are a cloned monoculture is why we eat them in the first place - varieties that can reproduce sexually don't make good fruit to eat, it's full of seeds and woody. Varieties that are resistant to TR4 are not as tasty as the cavendish. Genetic modification is one solution, but GM crops are unpopular and heavily regulated in the EU, a huge market, and GM companies aren't exactly renowned for their farmer-friendly policies. Cross breeding fertile plants to get resistant ones, then cross breeding again to get infertile cultivars (3 chromosomes instead of 2 or 4) for mass production is another avenue, and of course having different varieties being grown instead of one giant identicrop - but that also means consumers will have to get used to a much bigger variety of bananas in taste and texture in the shops instead of what they're used to.

Nobody is shedding any tears for giant agribusiness problems, but it also affects small producers for local consumption, and that impact on the food supply in much poorer areas should be more concerning. It's the climate crisis in miniature, i.e. it isn't affecting me yet, so why should I care?
posted by Absolutely No You-Know-What at 12:16 AM on June 20, 2019 [12 favorites]

OMG, allkindsoftime, that is absolutely horrific. Shame on every last one of them for thinking that was funny.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:20 AM on June 20, 2019 [19 favorites]

El unico fruto del amor
posted by chavenet at 2:08 AM on June 20, 2019

And the reason bananas are a cloned monoculture is why we eat them in the first place - varieties that can reproduce sexually don't make good fruit to eat, it's full of seeds and woody. Varieties that are resistant to TR4 are not as tasty as the cavendish.

This doesn't seem to square with other anecdotes in the thread. I've eaten wild bananas. They're definitely a little weird when you grew up eating sterile seedless bright-yellow cavendishes, but they're tasty. I personally don't like the seeds, but like you said, you can cross-breed for infertile cultivars, and you still have a lot of options in what traits you select for. My sense is that bananas are a lot like apples, where they don't breed true and thus rely on cloning to keep the properties in a variety that we really like. Unlike with apples, though, we've zeroed in on exactly one variety, and then covered the planet with plantations filled with that exact variety. That kind of monoculture is bad news for fungal resistance, but there's nothing stopping those plantations from replanting with a new, TR4-resistant variant of banana tomorrow, aside from the fact that modern capitalism demands that we extract as much value from the soil as humanly possible. That currently means planting only the thing that will grow the most fruit the fastest, so we'll grow only cavendishes until they're destroyed in a blight, then we'll wring our hands and demand to know what happened.

Now the thing I'm wondering is, why do consumers tolerate a dozen or more varieties of apple, but agricultural interests are convinced that no one would buy different types of banana?
posted by Mayor West at 4:27 AM on June 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

Tempted to say it's because banana is the 'exotic' fruit and you can't be too 'strange' or consumers* won't eat it.

*You know which market
posted by cendawanita at 4:42 AM on June 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

So, I recently started eating a daily banana, and was disappointed that the nice-looking Chiquita bananas I bought were so tasteless. Then I started buying the Fyffes bananas that were in the same market, even though they did not look as flawless as the Chiquitas. Much better.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:03 AM on June 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

The article hailing the 'end of hysteria' over GMOs doesn't understand that most people don t want to support GMOs because giving corporations the ability to patent DNA, and thus ownership over whole species, is a wretched thing to do. Our current WTO policies on this are causing farmer suicides around the planet.

Let the banana companies rot. Death to United Fruit/ Chiquita and Dole, if they are too dumb to manage a crop that grows this easily.

Reparations for all who have been harmed by the Zemurray family's love of guns, money and power.

I have my own trees in the backyard, and they taste better. Dole should not be able to own those trees, trees, that I cultivated, just because they share DNA with something Dole grew in a lab.

GMO IP policies need to change and GMO labelling must be passed and enforced.
posted by eustatic at 5:20 AM on June 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

A recent article on Zemurray hagiography.
posted by eustatic at 5:33 AM on June 20, 2019

...why do consumers tolerate a dozen or more varieties of apple, but agricultural interests are convinced that no one would buy different types of banana?

At least in the US, I imagine that has entirely to do with apples being a native, often local, commodity, wherein multiple varieties have been the norm for, more or less, eternity, long before commercial production took hold.

That said, there are many formerly plentiful apples that now exist mostly on farms that specialize in "heirloom" varieties, rarely to be seen outside of a few area farm stands.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:41 AM on June 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

At least in the US, I imagine that has entirely to do with apples being a native, often local, commodity, wherein multiple varieties have been the norm for, more or less, eternity, long before commercial production took hold.

Apples came to North America with European settlers; it is not a native fruit grown since time immemorial. (Crab apples are native, but they aren't so great for eating.)

But the bigger point that apples are grown locally and consumers here are used to at least a modicum of choice (eg yellow delicious, granny smith) is true. The apple comparison is apt, as there are a bunch (ha ha) of types of bananas, but most of them don't work well for large scale agriculture, transport, and storage required for export markets. I've had Gros Michel (they aren't extinct, just no longer in large scale production) and they are good, but so are lots of other varietals that don't get exported.

The same is true with, for example, mangoes: there are lots and lots of varietals, all with different tastes and textures, but it is rare to see more than one type in a supermarket here.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:51 AM on June 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

“Cavendish, banana. A fruit barely alive.
Gentlemen, we can rebuild it. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world's first bionic banana. Supernanner will be that banana. Better than it was before. Better, stronger, faster.”
posted by Huffy Puffy at 6:14 AM on June 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

The Gros Michel banana is not extinct and "it’s not a taste revelation”.

It's hard to find in person in the US but can be ordered on the internet just like everything else.

It's interesting how this product of mass production became so legendary when its monoculture failed even though it was just another crappy banana chosen because it was easy to grow in large quantities and ship across the world. I bet if the situation were reversed, the Cavendish would be legendary and subject to urban myth too.
posted by jclarkin at 6:48 AM on June 20, 2019 [9 favorites]

Yes because $97.00 for bananas is totally affordable for everyone, you're right, I should totally not complain about not being able to try new kinds of bananas...

Spending $100 on bananas over the internet is bananacrackers.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 11:59 AM on June 20, 2019

My partner and I usually eat a banana each workday in our lunches and I often holler in the grocery store about how they come from so far away and are so offensively cheap (you can get six for just over $1 CAD in our nearby store) and we were discussing switching to organic bananas instead to maybe get away from some of the negative aspects of how bananas get to us and why they're so cheap and a woman at the self-checkout near us said that once we tasted how good organic bananas were we'd never go back.

So the next time, we bought organic bananas excitedly, waited for them to ripen enough, ate them... and they were more tasteless than the cheap regular bananas. We were pretty disappoint.

When we were in Montevideo the hotel breakfast buffet had bananas sprinkled with cinnamon and that changed our lives. SO delicious. I love to eat mashed bananas with a sprinkle of cinnamon covered in plain yogurt with some granola.

Stay with me, nanners, I love you!
posted by urbanlenny at 12:27 PM on June 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

eustatic: The article hailing the 'end of hysteria' over GMOs doesn't understand that most people don t want to support GMOs because giving corporations the ability to patent DNA, and thus ownership over whole species, is a wretched thing to do.

So full disclosure, I do not know many (any?) crop farmers, and my experience with anti-GMO sentiment from my mostly white, privileged, crunchy and lefty-leaning friends and family has boiled down to not wanting 'science' touching their food. They seem to have this idea that you start with something 'perfect' already found in the produce section, and then GMO all over and turn it into poison. This ignores the fascinating history of plant domestication, pre-GMO technology, and how fruits and grains found in nature were bred to be deformed, wrought by selective breeding into these grotesque, delicious freaks. Modern apples, strawberries, and broccoli are to their ancestral forms like how severely inbred chihuahuas and smash-faced bulldogs are to wolves. And isn't that cool?!

I wanted to make this post because in addition to the awesome/horrifying history of the modern banana industry, it provided a nice succinct story of the possibility of GMO technology for good. Like, hey, look! The gene that can provide resistance to Panama Disease is right here in this grove of bananas of the same species. It's not in some nematode/jellyfish/coral, and won't make the banana any more day-glo than it already is.

That said, I totally support more varieties for export. Usually I can find plantains, and fry them up for breakfast with some cinnamon or sour cream 👌

allkindsoftime, I don't know what to say... except that TR4 has your back, mate.
posted by Drosera at 3:18 PM on June 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

a nice succinct story of the possibility of GMO technology for good.

Not in all cases though...
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:45 PM on June 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

I still don't see why we can't have anything but Cavendish. Like, are banana corps literally James Bond movie villains, obsessed with uniforms and identical henchpeople armed with identical banana-guns? I swear the other day I accidentally went into Whole Foods and found "red bananas" for reasonably cheap, bought them, and they tasted exactly like Cavendish. WHY. I can't even!

There's money in non-Cavendish banana stands too, you evil corporate idiots!
posted by MiraK at 6:49 AM on June 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

It has to be something related to shipping and supply chains. We've happy accepted a million different cultivars of apples, and the development of new cultivars makes occasional news stories. Bananas, it seems, could be similar. So it has to be down to the fact that apples are actually grown in majority white countries, while bananas are a tropical fruit that must be grown elsewhere and shipped long distances to be available in these places.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 2:46 PM on June 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Google just showed me an article about blind taste testing between the Gros Michel and Cavendish. Surprise! There's very little difference. Doesn't sound like blowing a hundred bucks on bananas is worth it.
posted by jclarkin at 5:20 PM on June 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

IDK about Gros Michel since I've never tried them, but I'm personally familiar with half a dozen different banana varieties which differ dramatically in taste and texture compared to one another.
posted by MiraK at 5:45 AM on June 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Mayor West: Now the thing I'm wondering is, why do consumers tolerate a dozen or more varieties of apple, but agricultural interests are convinced that no one would buy different types of banana?

Previously on MetaFilter: Slouching Toward Mediocrity (2010)
Until 2006, the California Tree Fruit Agreement, the organization that sets standards for the state's shippers of peaches, nectarines and plums, required the specific variety to be identified on the carton. But some growers and shippers found that they could not readily market certain varieties perceived by buyers as inferior, and so the CTFA now allows fruit to be shipped under generic designations such as "yellow peach."
So you won't be told if you're getting cling, semi-cling, or free-stone, let alone which varietal of peach or plum, beyond which distinct color they are.

Somehow, apples broke this limit in the last few decades (I don't recall seeing more than a few types as a kid in the 1980s and 1990s, beyond Red Delicious, Granny Smith, and probably Fuji), and you can buy apples from a dollar plus to four dollars per pound for non-organic varieties, with Honeycrisp being the most expensive that are found widely. Despite being a widely grown cultivar, they retain their price because they're pickier trees and more fragile fruit (Mentalfloss) than other mega-scale apples.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:26 PM on June 22, 2019

why do consumers tolerate a dozen or more varieties of apple, but agricultural interests are convinced that no one would buy different types of banana?

Because bananas ripen differently. Apples are ripe when they come off the tree, mostly, and survive in cool store until they're sold. They do deteriorate a bit, but the ideal technique for storing each variety is (a) not that different and (b) well known.

Mass-market bananas are picked green, and then ripen under the influence of temperature and ethylene (or a similar) gas. It's an intricate dance but it's very reproducible and it's why they could pick bananas in Central America and bring them by steamship to New York, knowing that the bananas would be sold at the perfect stage of ripeness. If they had shipped ripe bananas - or even ripening bananas - they'd have lost a lot to decay.

What this means is that mass-market banana distribution in temperate climates requires an industrialised supply chain: you can't just ship them around and hope for the best. And you can't use the same ripening room for different banana varieties simultaneously because the window of optimum ripeness is short (like, a day) and different varieties will ripen differently. In contrast, you can put twenty different varieties of ripe apples in the same cool store and they'll all be fine weeks later.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:53 PM on June 22, 2019 [4 favorites]

I live in a banana-producing country and have been unknowingly eating Gros Michels all the time, which I only realised because this thread got me to look up the names. They're perfectly nice bananas but they taste pretty much like a Cavendish, maybe a little sweeter, and they look very similar, both large-ish fruits with a fairly thick skin. A lot of the other bananas you can buy locally are small ones with much thinner skin, and seem to ripen and go off very quickly - they may not be so amenable to being shipped long distances and ripened afterwards.
posted by penguinliz at 11:43 PM on June 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

An Australian plant nursery is selling a variety that (a) ripens on the tree; abd (b) bursts open when it's at optimum ripeness. It's supposed to be delicious, but I imagine eating it is a challenge. And it won't grow down here, boo hiss.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:00 AM on June 23, 2019

I joined a CSA when I first moved to Florida and they sometimes had bananas. They were tiny and flavorful and delicious - I think they were Thai bananas. I've never liked supermarket bananas which taste like blandness and starch with a bit of sugar. But those Thai bananas are really good. Locally grown tropical fruit is the best.
posted by Daily Alice at 7:05 AM on June 23, 2019

I have noticed that the local Latino market has a whole bunch of bananas and similar fruits. So somebody, at least, has figured out how to ship something other than Cavendish bananas around.

Personally I love the not-sweet, very starchy plantains, which come in a variety of sizes but are often significantly larger than Cavendish sweet bananas. A friend taught me a technique for cooking them that is (reportedly) common in Puerto Rico: you peel and cut the fruit into 1" or so segments, then put them, on end, into a fry pan with perhaps 1/4" or so of very hot oil. You cook them like that until the bottom is golden-brown, then flip them over and, after a minute or so, squish them with the bottom of a glass or a hefty spatula (like you're making snickerdoodle cookies, basically), then cook the rest of the way to golden-brown all over. It sounds trivial, but it results in a fritter that's perfectly cooked inside and crisp on the outside. Season with Kosher or other chunky salt while draining on paper towels.

Apparently some people (if the Internet is to be believed) do this with sweet bananas, but I'm not sure how that would taste or what the texture would be like. I mean, a green plantain is more like a potato than a ripe sweet banana--you can even slice them on a mandolin and make pretty excellent not-potato chips, if you have a deep fryer. (It is a truth universally acknowledged that a person in possession of a deep fryer, must be in want of random things to throw in it. Beets also work surprisingly well.)

Maybe the benefit of starchy plantains is they're usually (in my experience, anyway) sold green, and you don't have the issues with ripeness that you have with other types of sweet banana. I suspect lots of consumers won't buy a green sweet banana, but will buy green plantains, so there's a wider window for selling them, hence more varieties available.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:44 AM on June 23, 2019

Pre-made packaged plantain chips are completely mainstream here. You can also get frozen pre-sliced and fried plantains (like frozen french fries). I have had fried sweet bananas, at a Chinese restaurant of all places, but the texture is pretty squishy.
posted by Daily Alice at 10:38 AM on June 23, 2019

Apparently some people (if the Internet is to be believed) do this with sweet bananas

If you mean banana fritters, yep, it's a Southeast Asian staple. In fact, it's a good way to use up overripe bananas. Dead simple to make, it's kinda like making balls of banana bread.

Fried bananas is a thing too, it's just battered and fried rough cut slices.
posted by cendawanita at 3:54 PM on June 23, 2019

« Older Aretha: Her story was in her songs   |   “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments