Bananas and plantains probably originated in New Guinea explaining the Panamanian euphemism Guineo used for the berry. The banana has been around for about 9000 years and belongs to the same plant family as ginger, turmeric and cardamom, and these flavors are easily discernible in many of the local noncommercial guineos. The Buddhist considers it the plant of futility because its flowers are sterile; it reproduces without fertilization and then dies. The Quran identifies it as the mythical tree of knowledge that produced the forbidden fruit and explains the Linnaean name Musa Paradisiacal. Many cultures thought the berry was a gift from the gods and the Arabic term mauzah banan, meaning little or delicate finger banana, was appropriate since the early cultivars were much smaller than today’s hybrids. Images of Buddha meditating often use a banana field as a backdrop and the grapes of Eschol mentioned in the bible may have been bananas. Both the Arabic and Western name probably came from one of the many Africa terms that include banna, gbana, bana, abana, funana and banana. Plantains, which are bananas, have their own naming myths. The Spanish may have seen a likeness between the plane (plateno) tree of Iberia and the banana bush hence the name OR even though there was no resemblance at all, they both grew in such profusion they used the name facetiously. Plantains have less moisture and sugar and a higher starch content then bananas and exhibit a much higher peel to flesh ratio. When preparing plantains and green bananas peel and soaked in a little salted water to remove any bitter tasting latex before cooking.
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Here’s a 40 slide power point presentation that will reveal all about bananas and plantains! … read more, click here
In 1469, the Portuguese recorded their discovery of the banana in West Africa. Fifty years later a Spanish Brother named Thomas de Berlanga, who also discovered the Galapagos, introduced them to Santa Domingo and then took them to Panama, when he became its fourth Bishop in 1534. Bananas, red ones, arrived in North America in 1804 when they arrived from Cuba and the first commercial imports landed in 1870. At the Philadelphia Centennial exhibition, they sold for a dime each and guards had to be stationed so fair goers wouldn’t rip up the exotic display plants for souvenirs. Bananas, generally unknown at the time, would become widely popular within a decade or two since they and apples were the only available fresh winter fruits of the period. The American builders of the Costa Rican railroad obtained 500 yards of easement on each side of their newly laid track. By 1871, they were planting the progenitors of the Central American banana industry along its length. The banana became a symbol of American affluence and freedom that reached the masses, albeit accompanied with instruction on how to peel in such publications as The Scientific American, by the beginning of the twenty century. In addition, if you were a child or a pregnant woman arriving at Ellis Island your first taste of America might have been a banana and some Jell-O if you traveled in steerage or a hand of the fruit and a logoed Jell-O mold if you disembarked via the first or second tier gangway.
One miracle fruit can cure disease and make people lose weight? That’s bananas and that’s 1917. … read more, click here
The new technologies of refrigeration and steam made shipping fruit, tourists and labor around the Caribbean Rim easy and the first refrigerated banana boat, the SS Venus, sailed to the states in 1903. By 1915, United Fruit Company’s Great White Fleet had almost a hundred ships under its flag making it the largest privately owned navy in the world. Although the name was originally used by President Teddy Roosevelt, for a fleet of warships sent on a global tour to showcase American big stick might, it was usurped by The United Fruit Company when it painted its ships reflective white to protect their banana cargoes from the rays of the tropical sun. By 1930 El Pulpo, or The Octopus, as the American banana interests were known, had deforested 2 million acres of rainforest for banana plantations, carried 72,000 Caribbean passengers enticed by a series of movie theater travelogues, and watched as the US conducted more than 20 known “peacekeeping” forays into the various Banana Republics of Central America. The fruit has become an American icon as exemplified by Josephine’s Bakers Parisian performance, the ever popular elementary school educational film “Journey to Banana Land” and televisions dancing Chiquita banana of the nineteen fifties. Furthermore, both Donovan and the Berkeley Barb were right, electrical bananas and mellow yellow peels do contain serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine all psychotropic compounds.
Bananas are the fourth largest caloric source in the world surpassed only by rice, wheat and milk with half a billion people depending on them for their daily foundation carbohydrate. The plant is actually a bush/herb not a tree, the banana is actually a berry whose pseudo stem can reach 40 feet and support leaves ten feet long and three feet wide. Eighty percent of the annual banana crop of lower America there and the remainder exported mostly to the US. North Americans eat 28, Central Americans 500 and East Africans almost 1000 pounds annually not including plantains. Although mangoes are the world’s favorite fruit, bananas are the North American favorite followed by apples, grapes and oranges.
Unfortunately Mono cultural plantings, be they coffee, sugar, oil palms, corn, soy or rubber, clear cut whole forests changing the lives of the locals by limiting the availability of traditional foods and, like animal feed lots, trigger huge plant plagues. Bananas are a prime example where modern agriculture practice that replaces vegetation and native life forms with monoculture crop production. Inevitably, the crops abandoned and the land is then repopulated by species completely different from the original. All was well in banana land until about 50 years ago when the Big Mike/Gros Micheal cultivar died out from“Panama disease”. So in 1959 Central American growers cut back millions of acres of rainforest and planted a Cavendish hybrid known as the “Jamaican Valery”, the banana we all know and peel today. But unfortunately that Cavendish derivative is still disease and pest prone and requires the aerial application of pesticides, fungicides and fumigates that poison the waters, kill the birds and render the unprotected workers sterile. In addition, today’s growers face a new African variety of the Panama disease that is likely to destroy the current Cavendish cultivar within ten years and are vigorously researching a red variety to replace it. That’s right, it’s likely that your child will soon be peeling and eating a red banana that will be as different from yours as yours were from your grandmothers and yes they used to taste better.
Bananas, the largest herb in the world, are monocarpic … they die after fruiting and parthenocarpic … they producing both male and female flowers. They require no insects, birds or bats to pollinate instead reproducing vegetatively from perennial underground corms naturally or via man by the hand planting of volunteer suckers or shoots from the plants base. These underground corms can continual to produce for up to 10 seasons and since these rhizomes grows laterally the plants are often said to walk as they sprout farther and farther from the parent plant. There are about 100 varieties growing in the tropics; their leaves are used for wrapper and plates, their buds pickled, their flowers sautéed and their “berries’ eaten. It takes anywhere from 14 to 18 months from eruption to harvest and with its heavy purple blossom drooping towards the ground, and the attached crown of “berries” growing above it, the plant appears off worldly alien to the first time observer. Each plant can produce anywhere from one to four hundred fruits that take about three months to reach the green harvest state after flowering takes place. Bananas are extremely prolific and a plot yielding over 4000 pounds a year would only produce 98 of potatoes or 33 of wheat from the same sized acreage. Bananas, picked and shipped green, are gassed with ethylene in huge warehouses to accelerate the ripening process when they reach North America.