If you’re bananas about bananas, you’re not alone. Americans consume an annual average of twenty-five pounds of bananas per person. In fact, bananas are the world’s most popular fruit, more popular than even apples or oranges, and the fourth most consumed crop on the planet, after rice, maize, and wheat.
First cultivated in Malaysia and India, bananas are now grown in more than 130 tropical countries, and have grown to become one of the most exported products in Central and South America, alongside coffee.
There are more than 400 varieties of banana in existence. The sweet yellow Cavendish is the favorite in America, Canada, and Europe. Baking bananas, also known as plantains, are another popular variety worldwide. They are large green or reddish bananas that can’t be eaten raw, but are cooked into many dishes, replacing potatoes or rice as the major staple food in tropical countries.
In Eastern Africa, travelers and locals alike even enjoy any one of several varieties of sweet beer brewed from bananas, including a Kenyan variety called urwawa.
Here in the west, most of us enjoy our bananas raw, or as part of a rich dessert. Banana splits, bananas foster, banana bread, banana topped pancakes, peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and fruit smoothies, which rely on bananas as a thickening agent, are just a few of this versatile fruit’s many tempting incarnations.
With less water content than most other fruits, bananas are as filling as they are tasty, not to mention extremely rich in nutrients.
When most people think of bananas, potassium is usually the first nutrient that comes to mind, though what potassium is, or what it does, remains a mystery to many. Potassium is essential to the maintenance the body’s balance of fluid and electrolyte levels. It’s crucial for the operation of the muscular and nervous systems. Research has also shown that diets high in potassium can reduce the risk of high blood pressure.
Bananas have a lot more going for them than just potassium, though. A single medium banana can provide up to a third of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin C, a vitamin most closely associated with citrus fruits, like oranges. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that protects the body from some forms of heart disease and cancer. It is also responsible for producing collagen, a protein present in muscles and bones that works to bind cells together. Vitamin C boosts the immune system, helping the body to heal from scrapes and bruises. It also increases iron absorption, which is good news for people struggling to overcome a deficiency.
Bananas are also an excellent source of Vitamin B6, which is believed to improve brain function and help the body convert protein into energy, and manganese, an antioxidant mineral that is important for fighting fatigue, improving memory, aiding food digestion and developing strong bones.
In addition to their wealth of nutrients, bananas are very low in fat — especially dangerous saturated fat — cholesterol and sodium. They are also a great source of dietary fiber, which, in addition to being good for digestion, has been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels and slow the absorption of sugar.
So, pull back that peel, kick back and enjoy a tropical treat! Your body will thank you. Here are a few banana recipes to enjoy:
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons rum
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/3 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 bananas, peeled and sliced lengthwise and crosswise
1/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 pint vanilla ice cream
In a large skillet melt butter over medium heat. Stir in rum, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon. Once the sauce mixture begins to bubble, add bananas and walnuts. Cook about 2 minutes and serve over vanilla ice cream.
Walnut Chocolate Chip Banana Bread
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup mashed ripe bananas
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 9″x5″ loaf pan with butter and flour. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, chocolate chips, and walnuts. Whip room temperature butter in a large bowl. Gradually add sugar, beating until well blended. Beat in eggs one at a time, followed by the mashed bananas and vanilla extract, and finally the flour mixture. Pur the mixture into the loaf pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Turn out onto a rack to cool.
Want to know more about bananas? Here’s some fun trivia!