Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sunshine fruit

Bananas are fascinating. They look good. They taste good. They are the perfect shape for holding in the hand. They don’t make a mess when you eat them. They are rich in vitamins B6 and C and potassium . Bananas vary in size and colour – green, yellow, red and purple. The green ones are normally used for cooking – they are called ‘plantains’ and are starchier and less sweet than the yellow dessert bananas we normally eat.

Although the plants can grow up to 7 metres tall they are not trees, but rather flowering herbaceous plants growing from a corm. Each trunk or, more correctly, stem is a ‘pseudostem’ which only produces a single bunch of fruits before dying. The corm produces new pseudostems as off-shoots. Each stem usually produces only one sterile male flower; the female flowers, which do not require fertilization, become the fruit. The male flower is called the banana heart, which is used as a vegetable in South East Asia – the flavour is said to be similar to that of the artichoke.

There are some wild species of bananas that have large, hard seeds, but the commercial dessert banana seeds are no more than specks along the centre of the fruit. On the bush, bananas grow pointing upwards, rather than hanging down. They are non-seasonal, and so are available all year round.

Banana plants are used in textile manufacture, too. In Japan the leaves and shoots are harvested and processed to produce differing grades of yarn for specific uses, from hard-wearing table cloths to soft and silky kimonos. In Nepal the pseudostems are softened and the fibre is extracted for use in rug making, these rugs have a silk-like texture.

There is archaeological evidence in Papua New Guinea to suggest that banana cultivation goes back to as early as 5000BC, and this is probably the primary area of cultivation. There are references to bananas in Islamic texts as early as the 9th century. By the 10th century bananas were known in Palestine and Egypt.
Although bananas were available in Europe, they were not widely known there until the Victorian era. Jules Verne gives a necessarily detailed description of bananas in ‘Around the world in 80 days’ (1872).

Bananas can be eaten raw, fried, baked or steamed. They can be sliced and dried. They can be made into jam. Dried bananas can be ground into flour.

I like them best mashed on a slice of toast.


Helen said...

Long live bananas!

Sphinx said...

Yellow is such a happy colour, isn't it? And bananas are even shaped like a smile!