Among tropical fruits, bananas are probably the most popular, and with good reason. They are delicious and nutritious, and can be consumed by everyone, from babies to seniors.
The banana plant belongs to the Musa genus. The varieties preferred for cultivation are two hybrid species, Musa accuminata and Musa balbisiana. These types are mostly produced in Southeast Asia, Africa, and South and North America.
There are many varieties of banana. Short Cavendish, mid-sized Grand Nines, and longer Chiquita are some of those. The main harvesting occurs in September and October, but bananas can be produced year round in greenhouses.
Bananas are not reproduced by seeds. They reproduce through tissue culture – pieces of tubers or underground shoots. Underground perennial tubers spread horizontally and grow roots. Once the leaves and sheaths inside the annual aerial pseudostem reach a certain number, a flower bud is developed. The flower stalk, rising among the leaf bundles that are in the center of the pseudostem, carries the purple colored flowers that will become fruit.
When these flowers bloom, sounds can be heard. These sounds occur during the tearing of stem when the flowers force away from the crust to form the banana clusters; this is also known as inflorescence. While the buds are quickly developing, the purple leaves open and flowers become visible. Once the flower inflorescence emerges completely, it bends towards the ground. Fruits then form. Since the banana is a parthenocarpic plant, its fruit is generated without pollination from female flowers, like seedless grapes. The approximate time required for flowers to give fruit and become ripe is three months (1).
Bananas are rich in nutrients. There is 1.1 gr. of protein, only 0.2 gr. of fat, 22 gr. of carbohydrates (fructose, glucose, sucrose and starch, cellulose, pectin), along with minerals like potassium, calcium, iron, phosphate, copper, zinc, and magnesium in 100 grams of a banana. It also contains fruit acids, along with vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, B9, C, D, E and P vitamins. Before bananas ripen, when they are still green, they contain approximately 1% sugar and 20% starch. As they ripen, the sugar content rises to 20% and the starch level drops to 1%.
Bananas are harvested green and unripe and are matured in a closed environment. Unripe bananas can be stored for up to 15 days at 5-10 degree Celsius and 80-90% relative humidity. Maturation is enabled via ethylene gas, in storage rooms or during shipment. The shell becomes completely yellow, with brown spots, when the banana ripens. These spots indicate the sufficient conversion of starches into sugars. It is recommended to consume the ripe fruit as soon as possible.
In the past, the transportation of mature fruits to remote regions was a major problem, but this is not the case today. It is because methylcyclopropene (MCP) is used to delay the ripening of the fruit. When MCP is used, it binds to ethylene receptors, and slows down maturation (2). The proper storage temperature is 13-15 degrees (Celsius), so they get darker in the fridge faster. Therefore, it is advised to store them in a suitable place in a paper bag (3).
Even though they are usually eaten raw, as a fruit, some banana types are consumed after cooking. They can also be utilized as chips, baby food, puree, flour, or juice. In some places, banana flowers are used in salads and as decoration. Furthermore, bananas are employed in facial and skin care products. The leaves and stalks of the banana plant may also be used in the construction of roofs, and the fibers can be used as ropes, upholsteries, or even hats.
According to the statistics of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the annual production was 55-60 million tons in 1995, whereas it is 90-100 million tons today. 25% of the production occurs in India, and the majority of the rest takes place in the Philippines, China, Brazil, and Ecuador. Even though they are grown in various parts of the world and traded widely, bananas are mostly imported by developed countries.
Bananas can help prevent many diseases or provide complementary aid to different therapies. When a banana is blended with milk, it can serve as an ideal starter food for babies, and can also reduce wear and tear on the body, delaying aging.
Bananas have been shown to help after stomach or intestinal bleeding, and in patients with ulcers or various laryngeal problems. They can help prevent acid reflux. The sodium and potassium contained in bananas are effective for restoring heart beat rhythms and the body’s osmotic balance. Since bananas are rich in iron, they’re beneficial for anemia. Due to a high amount of serotonin, bananas can actually make people happier, improving our decision making and concentration. Because they can actually make us less depressed, bananas are a recommended snack (5).
Bananas help support the development of children’s skeletal structures, and can ease the pain of menstrual cramps. Aside from being an energy source, bananas help the nervous system function properly, maintaining the acid-base balance of bodily fluids and strengthening the immune system. Because of high magnesium and potassium, they help us sleep better – thus making a banana the perfect midnight snack!
Carbohydrates can cause instant blood sugar spikes, but they are also the most important energy source of the brain, central nervous system, and muscles. When blood sugar rises, it is stored as sugar or fat with the help of insulin secreted by the pancreas. This can cause obesity, or even diabetes, if a person ingests too many carbohydrates. Therefore, one must consume high sugar foods like bananas at the right time, and in the right amount.
Beta-carotene, one of the precursors of vitamin A, happens to be abundant in bananas. Beta-carotene helps with the neutralization of free radicals, supports the immune system, prevents cardio-vascular disease, and is protective against cancer. It’s more beneficial when taken together with vitamin E and C, which are also found in bananas.
The good news keeps coming! Due to a high amount of fiber, bananas are great for dieting and can also prevent colon and bowel cancers. Bananas can also help to regulate bowel functions.
Genetically modified banana plants are also employed for the synthesis of vaccine proteins used against Hepatitis, rabies, dysentery, cholera and other intestinal infections (7).
As you can see, the banana has been imbued with an extraordinary amount of positive properties. It’s not difficult to look at bananas as an amazing blessing bestowed upon humanity.