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Foods

Bananas


Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

The banana, which has been a staple for thousands of years, is a nearly ideal food, and Americans have made it their favorite fruit. The banana has a great deal to offer nutritionally. Because bananas contain less water than most other fruits, their carbohydrate content, by weight, is higher, which is one of the reasons that bananas are a favorite of endurance athletes. Bananas can be easily digested by virtually everyone, including infants and the elderly. This fruit also supplies a substantial amount of potassium along with significant amounts of vitamin B6. Bananas also have a small amount of folate (folic acid) and vitamin C.

Varieties

The familiar yellow banana sold in the U.S. is usually the Cavendish variety. In specialty stores, urban supermarkets, and in Latin neighborhoods, you can sometimes find more exotic varieties that offer different tastes and textures. These include manzano (also called apple or finger bananas), which are finger-size and turn black when ripe; Saba and Brazilian, which are straight, medium-size, and somewhat tart; and red bananas, which are very sweet and turn purplish red as they ripen.

Plantains (platanos), which look like large, green bananas, are often seen in most Latin markets. These starchy fruits are usually cooked and eaten as a vegetable.

Availability

Bananas are not a commercial crop in the United States; they are cultivated in tropical regions, most prolifically in Central and South America, and shipped to northern ports on a grand scale. Yellow bananas are in good supply all year; exotic varieties are more seasonal.

Shopping

The taste and texture of a banana is directly related to its stage of ripeness. The carbohydrates in green bananas are primarily starches that turn to sugar as the fruits ripen. Very green bananas are hard and have an astringent taste, whereas fully ripened yellow bananas are soft, sweet, and creamy. Bananas that are yellow and flecked with just a few brown spots will be at their peak flavor, but their texture is on the verge of being mushy, so many people prefer bananas that have unspotted yellow skins and green tips. There's no harm in eating a less-than-ripe banana, except that if it is very green, it may be harder to digest.

Choose bananas according to how and when you'll eat them. If you prefer fully ripe bananas, and the store carries only greenish ones, you'll need to shop several days in advance of the time you plan to eat the fruit. If you prefer bananas just yellow, a day or two will suffice to ripen greenish ones. Don't buy any that have a dull, grayish cast; these may have been stored at very cold temperatures, and will not ripen properly.

Bananas should be plump, firm, and brightly colored. Look for unblemished fruit: Occasional brown spots on the skin are normal, but sunken, moist-looking dark areas will likely show up as bruises on the fruit. Bananas should have their stem ends and skins intact: A split skin or stem may become an entry point for contamination. There's no quality difference between small and large fruit, so you can choose the "portion size" you prefer. Bananas bruise easily, so handle them with care.

Storage

Bananas that require further ripening should be left at room temperature, but away from heat or direct sun. To speed ripening, place them in a loosely closed paper bag. Putting an apple in the bag will further speed the process. Once ripened to your liking, bananas can be held at room temperature for a day or two. Then, you can store them in the refrigerator to slow down ripening; although the skins will turn dark, the fruits will remain perfectly edible. You can keep refrigerated bananas for up to two weeks. But never refrigerate unripe bananas: The exposure to cold interrupts their ripening cycle, and it will not resume even if the fruits are returned to room temperature.

You can salvage an overabundance of overripe bananas by peeling them, wrapping them whole or in chunks in plastic wrap, and freezing them. Eat them frozen (a sweet treat in summer) or thaw them and use in baking, where peak sweetness and "mushiness" are desirable.

Preparation

When peeling and slicing bananas that you won't be serving immediately, dip them into lemon, lime, or orange juice to slow browning.

Heating enhances this aromatic fruit, making it taste and smell even sweeter. Bananas are tender and require very little cooking time; however, slightly underripe fruits are best for cooking, as they hold their shape better.

Baking: Halve bananas lengthwise. Place in a baking dish, brush with orange or other fruit juice and a little honey, if desired, and bake until hot and tender. Cooking time: about 15 minutes at 400°F.

Grilling/broiling: Thread banana chunks crosswise on skewers and cook over the coals; or, place unpeeled fruit, halved lengthwise, directly on the grill until heated through. Indoors, place halved bananas, cut-side up, under the broiler. Cooking time: about 5 minutes.

Nutrition Chart

Banana/1 medium

109
Total fat (g)
0.6
Saturated fat (g)
0.2
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.1
Dietary fiber (g)
2.8
1
Carbohydrate (g)
28
Sodium (mg)
1
Vitamin B6 (mg)
0.7
Potassium (mg)
467


Date Published: 04/19/2005
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