A Nifty Banana Guide - Nutrition, Cooking Ideas, Trivia and More
Banana - A Celebrity Among Fruits
If we compare the dragon fruit to Salma Hayek (rare and exotic), the banana is probably more like Kate Winslet (not really an American local yet so familiar). Each year, the average American family eats bananas more than apples and oranges combined. They are the first fruit babies can eat and possibly the last fruit elderly adults can chew. In fact, bananas are not only popular in the United States. According to the UNCTAD (The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development), they are the world's most famous fruit. Before we dig into deeper details about banana nutrition and cookery, let's look at a few pieces of evidence that prove the banana's stardom in the fruit world:
- America's Delight - On average, Americans consume about 12 billion bananas a year, which is approximately 26 pounds or almost 150 bananas per person! Without a doubt, they are America's number one fruit.
- A Great Poet's Delicacy - Legend has it that the banana was Walt Whitman's favorite fruit. As an artistic guy, of course, he preferred to eat his bananas artistically. It would be too banal to just peel and chew. Before taking each bite, Whitman would dip his banana into a glass of sherry. Perhaps that was part of the secret to his wonderful poetry.
- Japan's Slim Trick - The morning banana diet became the most frenzied diet fad in Japan in 2008, causing a serious banana shortage in most supermarkets all over the country. The effectiveness of the banana diet has not been confirmed by any health institution, though a number of weight-concerned individuals in many other countries have already jumped on the bandwagon.
- Hindu Holy Fruit - In the Christian Bible, the forbidden fruit in the earthly paradise was the apple, but in Hinduism, it was the banana! Bananas are believed to be one of the best offerings to Hindu gods, and banana leaves have been used as decorative items in various religious ceremonies.
The history of the banana is almost as complicated as the journey of Odysseus. It involves a lot of sailing, cultural exchanges and exotic lands. Bananas are believed to have originated in Southeast Asia around 4,000 - 5,000 years ago. They were cultivated and used in cooking even before rice. Some horticulturists suspect that they might have been the first fruit on earth. Easy to grow and convenient to transport, bananas later spread throughout South Asia and caught the attention of some Arabian traders, who decided to introduce them to West Africa. After becoming one of Africa's main crops, they were brought to Europe by a group of Portuguese seafarers. And finally, the renowned bananas made their way to the American continent, supposedly with either Portuguese explorers or Spanish missionaries.
Nowadays, there are almost 1000 varieties available. Unlike most other fruits, bananas don't grow on trees.The banana plant is not a tree, but considered a large herb, in the same family as orchids and lilies. Each banana plant bears only one stem of fruits. A cluster of bananas is called a hand, and each banana is called a finger. Some of the most famous varieties include Cavendish, Burro, Manzano and red banana.
Key Health Benefits of Bananas
- Bananas for Better Cardiovascular Health - One medium-size banana contains a whopping 460 grams of potassium, a nutrient that can help you maintain normal blood pressure and heart function. According to a 12-year study, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, a high daily intake of potassium-rich foods might be able to reduce the risk of stroke by 40%. So one banana a day may keep a stroke away!
- Bananas for an Ulcer-Free Stomach - Certain compounds in bananas can encourage the stomach-lining cells to create more protective mucus, and at the same time, they also help eliminate harmful bacteria that might lead to stomach ulcers. Next time you think about skipping a meal, at least grab a banana; your stomach needs some protection.
- Bananas for Higher Stamina- Athletes usually eat bananas before their competitions and strenuous workouts. Sometimes we even see Rafael Nadal snack on a banana between his tennis matches! Bananas help maintain proper body-fluid balance, keep your energy levels high as well as protect you from muscle cramps. If you are on a weight-loss program that includes hours of exercise, I suggest you add bananas to your regular diet. Your workouts might become a bit easier and more enjoyable.
- Bananas for a Happier Mind - Bananas are loaded with vitamin B6, a nutrient that can fight off anxiety and mild depression. In fact, I have discussed the use of bananas for psychological effects in one of my previous articles, Recipes for P.M.S. Relief. If bananas can cheer up "pms-ing" women, believe me they are probably good for many other types of stress. No wonder monkeys are such joyous animals.
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Buying and Storing Bananas
Bananas are one of a few fruits that are picked when they're still unripe, as they tend to become too mushy in texture when allowed to ripen on the plant. If you don't plan to eat your bananas right away, it's better to buy green or semi-green ones, then hang them upside down and let them ripen slowly at room temperature. To quicken the ripening process, place your bananas in a paper bag or wrap them with newspaper. Putting an apple in the bag with the bananas will make them ripen even faster because apples release ethylene gas, the same chemical some greenhouses use to artificially ripen fruits. NEVER refrigerate green bananas. An extra-cold temperature will interrupt the ripening process, and your poor bananas may not be able to resume their ripening again even after they are removed from the refrigerator.
If you want to buy ripe bananas, select the ones that are free of spots or bruises, with their stems and tips completely intact. Also, in the banana world, size really doesn't matter. Just because some bananas are small doesn't mean they are of poor quality. Unlike green bananas, ripe bananas can be refrigerated for a few days in order to avoid overripeness. The skins may darken a bit, but the fruit will maintain its firm texture and nice flavor. Another good way to store ripe bananas for a long time (several months) is to freeze them. To do this, peel each banana, dip it in lemon juice to prevent discoloration, then wrap it in a plastic wrap and make sure there is no uncovered parts or air space.
What to do with Bananas - Serving and Cooking Ideas
Banana Rumaki Recipe
Ingredients (for 24 pieces) - 4 firm bananas (cut into 1-inch slices), 1 8-oz can water chestnut (halved), 12 slices lean bacon (halved crosswise), 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup water, 1/2 tsp. curry powder, 1/4 tsp. ground ginger, 24 wooden toothpicks
Preparation - Mix soy sauce, sugar, water, curry powder and ginger in a large bowl. Wrap each slice of bacon around a slice of banana and a half of water chestnut. Fasten with a toothpick, then repeat with the rest. Marinate the rumaki in the soy sauce mixture for about an hour. Arrange them on a baking sheet and bake in an oven preheated to 400-degree F for about 12 - 15 minutes or until bacon is crisp.
Banana Appetizers and Side Dishes
- Banana crackers - Peanut butter might be a good choice of dip for these crackers, and cream cheese might lend a more interesting flavor to them. Adding these crackers to a bowl of cold cereal is another nifty way to enjoy them. But actually, they are quite tasty enough to be eaten plain.
- Banana salad - With an egg, a few ripe bananas, a little bit of vinegar and sugar, and a handful of ground peanut, a scumptious banana salad was born.
- Banana soup - There are quite a few kinds of delicious banana soups: banana squash soup, Cuban spicy banana soup, chilled strawberry-banana soup, etc. If you are a true banana lover, you've got to try at least some of them!
- Banana rumaki - Rumaki is a type of cocktail-party food with a Polynesian origin. It's usually made with meat or seafood, wrapped with bacon and fastened with a toothpick. But guess what? You can make rumaki with bananas as well.
Banana omelet - Simple and Yummy
- Banana breakfast smoothie - This is a very convenient way to prepare breakfast. You won't have to do much; just let your blender work its wonder. The riper the banana, the sweeter your smoothie will be. One awesome thing about bananas is that they can go well with many other types of fruits.
- Banana Crêpe- Imagine tender banana slices, wrapped with a sweet-smelling thin pancake and served with warm chocolate sauce. Hmmmmm, banana crêpe, je t'aime!
- Banana Frittata- The frittata is a gastronomical hybrid between a pancake and an omelet. And the banana frittata is a combination of nutritiousness and joy.
- Banana muffin - Some people need to start their day with ham and eggs, but for some others, a nice cup of coffee and a moist banana muffin are quite enough for a delightful morning.
- Banana omelet - Who said eggs and bananas don't mix? They do and come out very yummy, too!
- Banana pancake - To make this, I usually just slice up a banana and mix them with my pancake batter. Some people, however, use mashed bananas instead.
- Banana Bread - Nutritious and versatile, It can be served as breakfast, snack or even dessert. Plus, a couple thick slices of banana bread can be quite filling and comforting--a great way to start your day.
- Banana with oatmeal or cereal - Add more nutrition to your oatmeal or breakfast cereal by topping it with banana slices. So simple yet yummy!
Learn how to make banana fritters with Gordon Ramsey
- Banana curry - There are several ways to make banana curry. Most people use green bananas, but at Bombay restaurant in San Diego, California, they use unpeeled ripe bananas for a more interesting contrast in texture.
- Banana fritters - These taste-bud pamperers are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. With a bit of sesame seed and spices, they turn out quite delish. They can be enjoyed as a main dish, munched on like a snack, or served with honey and ice cream as a dessert.
- Banana kebabs- Banana kebabs are usually made with green or semi-green bananas. They can either be barbecued on a grill or broiled in an oven. For a nicer display and flavor, you might want to add small chunks of sweet potato to your kebab skewers as well. Bananas and sweet potatoes go together quite awesomely.
- Banana meatloaf - Don't make your meatloaf smell too meaty. Mashed bananas can lend an appetizing aroma to it.
- Banana Stew - If we can cook bananas with a meatloaf or curry, why not put them in a stew, right?
Banana Parfait with Peanut Butter
- The classic - banana cakes, banana cookies, banana cream pie, banana custard, banana foster, banana ice-cream, banana sorbet, banana muffins, banana parfait, banana pudding
- The exotic - banana kheer, Thai candied bananas, Thai steamed bananas, African banana peanut cake, Caribbean banana bomb cake
- The fun and funky - banana fandango, banana fool, banana flambe, banana poached in red wine, Kahlua banana cake
- Kids' Favorites - banana bon bons, banana cupcakes, banana split, banana toffee crunch, chocolate-covered banana, frozen banana pops, banana s'mores
Belgian Banana Beer
- Banana beer - A lot of people say it's a very weak beer. The original banana beer was created in Uganda; they call it "Tonto." Now some European countries are producing this type of beer as well.
- Banana coffee - You can make this easily by mixing a cup of cold brewed coffee, one ripe banana and a pint of coffee ice-cream in a blender until smooth. Pour your banana coffee into a chic tall glass. You know what's next; savor it!
- Banana eggnog - For the love of eggnog, let it go bananas this Christmas!
- Banana julius - Try an orange julius with a banana twist. It's still pretty "orangy"; the banana flavor just lurks in there like a sneaky ingredient.
- Banana lassi - A healthy yogurt drink for those who favor exotic beverages. It is one of the mango lassi's biggest competitors for the Queen of Indian Drinks title.
- Banana punch - Have you ever had a refreshing, slushy banana drink? It cools me off and lightens me up on a hot day the same way nectar enlivens humming birds.
- Banana milkshake - Do I need to say much about a good old banana milkshake? I think I must have had at least 500 glasses of banana milkshake in my life. By the time I reach sixty, I would probably have approached my 1000th banana milkshake!
***A note to Ms. Ann Lovell, The Washington Banana Museum Curator*** Thanks again for letting me use 2 wonderful pictures from your museum in this article. :)
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